AFRICANUS JOURNAL

Vol. 7 No. 2 | November 2015

africanus journal
vol. 7, no. 2 November 2015

Contents
2

Goals of the Journal

2

Life of Africanus

2

Other Front Matter

4

The Christian Faith, Race Relations, and Civic Order
Mark Harden, Dennis Hollinger, and Emmett Price

21 The Pagan Roots of the Charleston Shooting: Reflection
William David Spencer
29 Toppling the Silent Idol: Assessing Greed as Part of an Idolatrous
Meta-System and Promoting Holiness as an Antidote to Greed
Aída Besançon Spencer
49 Perspectives on Anger from Ephesians 4
Deb Beatty Mel
56 Review of Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit
with Counterfeit Worship
John P. Lathrop
59 Review of Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling
People, Cults and Beliefs
Donna F. G. Hailson
61 Review of Preventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains
and Pastoral Counselors
John Huffman
64 Review of Atonement, Law, and Justice: The Cross in Historical and
Cultural Contexts
Antonio L. Arsenal
66 Review of Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew
James A. Benson

1

Goals of the Africanus Journal
The Africanus Journal is an interdisciplinary biblical, theological, and practical journal of the Center for Urban Ministerial
Education (CUME). Its goals are to promote:
a. the mission and work of the members and mentors of the Africanus Guild Ph.D. Research Program of GordonConwell Theological Seminary, Boston;
b. the principles of the Africanus Guild (evangelical orthodox Christian men and women who are multicultural,
multiracial, urban-oriented, studying a Bible without error in a cooperative way);
c. Christian scholarship that reflects an evangelical perspective, as an affiliate of GCTS-Boston. This is an
interdisciplinary journal that publishes high quality articles in areas such as biblical studies, theology, church history,
religious research, case studies, and studies related to practical issues in urban ministry. Special issues are organized
according to themes or topics that take seriously the contextual nature of ministry situated in the cultural, political,
social, economic, and spiritual realities in the urban context.
Scholarly papers may be submitted normally by those who have or are in (or are reviewed by a professor in) a Th.M.,
D.Min., Ed.D., Th.D., ST.D., Ph.D., or equivalent degree program.
Two issues normally are published per year. http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/Africanus-Journal.cfm
© 2015 by the Africanus Guild

Life of Julius Africanus
Julius Africanus was probably born in Jerusalem, many scholars think around a.d. 200. Africanus was considered by the
ancients as a man of consummate learning and sharpest judgment (Ante-Nicene Fathers 6:128). He was a pupil of Heracles,
distinguished for philosophy and other Greek learning, in Alexandria, Egypt around a.d. 231–233. In a.d. 220/226, he
performed some duty in behalf of Nicopolis (formerly Emmaus) in Palestine. Later he likely became bishop of Emmaus
(Eusebius, History, VI.xxxi.2). Origen calls him “a beloved brother in God the Father, through Jesus Christ, His holy Child”
(Letter from Origen to Africanus 1). Fellow historian Eusebius distinguishes him as “no ordinary historian” (History, I. vi.2).
Eusebius describes the five books of Chronologies as a “monument of labor and accuracy” and cites extensively from his
harmony of the evangelists’ genealogies (History, VI. xxxi. 1–3). Africanus was a careful historian who sought to defend the
truth of the Bible. He is an ancient example of meticulous, detailed scholarship which is historical, biblical, truthful, and devout.
Even though Eusebius describes Africanus as the author of the Kestoi, Jerome makes no mention of this (ANF 6:124). The
author of Kestoi is surnamed Sextus, probably a Libyan philosopher who arranged a library in the Pantheon at Rome for
the Emperor. The Kestoi was probably written toward the end of the 200s. It was not written by a Christian since it contains
magical incantations (Oxyrhynchus Papyri III.412).
The Greek text of Africanus’ writings may be found in Martinus Josephus Routh, Reliquiae sacrae II (New York: Georg
Olms Verlag, 1974 [1846]), 225–309, and Martin Wallraff, Umberto Roberto, Karl Pinggéra, eds., William Adler, trans., Iulius
Africanus Chronographiae: The Extant Fragments, Die Griechischen Christlichen Schrifsteller 15 (New York: Walter de Gruyter,
2007).
The extant writings of Julius Africanus may be found in vol. 1, no 1, April 2009 edition of the Africanus Journal.

Other Front Matter
Editorial team for the issue: Jennifer Creamer, Mark G. Harden, Seong Hyun Park, Nicole Rim, John Runyon, Aída
Besançon Spencer, William David Spencer
Resources
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary faculty publications only and hard copies of this journal may be ordered by
emailing cumebookstore@gordonconwell.edu, books@gordonconwell.edu, or by telephone at 617-427-7293.
Each author is solely legally responsible for the content and the accuracy of facts, citations, references, and quotations
rendered and properly attributed in the article appearing under his or her name. Neither Gordon-Conwell Theological
Seminary, the Africanus Guild, nor the editorial team is responsible or legally liable for any content or any statements made
by any author, but the legal responsibility is solely that author’s once an article appears in print in the Africanus Journal.
Summary of Content
This issue has numerous topics of concern to the church: how to respond to some of the racist killings in recent times,
an analysis of greed from a biblical perspective and beginning steps on response, and a study of anger in the context of
Ephesians 4. Books on a variety of topics are reviewed.

2

Africanus
Guild

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L to R: William David Spencer, Joo Yun Kim, Dae Sung Kim, Mark Harden, Quonekuia Day, Jennifer Creamer, Aida Besancon Spencer

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3

The Christian Faith, Race Relations, and Civic Order:
The Ferguson Protests1
Mark Harden, Dennis Hollinger, and Emmett Price
Introduction by Dr. Richard Lints:
The deans and presidents of the historically African-American schools in the ATS, the American
Theological Society, including our very own Dean Mark Harden put together a statement related to
the events in Ferguson2 as well as in Staten Island3 at their annual meeting. A part of it serves as a
nice prelude to our conversation here:
“From a manger in Bethlehem, a Bantustan in Soweto, a bus in Montgomery, a
freedom summer in Mississippi, a bridge in Selma, a street in Ferguson, a doorway and
shots fired in Detroit, a moral Monday in Raleigh, an assault in an elevator in Atlantic
City, an office building in Colorado Springs, a market in Paris, a wall in Palestine, the
kidnapping and assault of young school-aged girls and the reported killing of 2,000
women, children, and men in Nigeria, God sends a sign, a kairos moment, a reminder
that the racial climate and the respect for our common humanity everywhere is in
decline. How can we continue with business as usual in our theological schools in the
midst of so many egregious injustices?” The statement goes on, “We believe that the
citizens of good conscience must arise and call our nations to assess and address the
rising tides of injustice throughout our legal and criminal justice systems. There must
be restraint to those who shoot, kill, and maim in the streets of our nation. And so
we call on our churches to challenge their members and communities to live out an
inclusive commitment to love God, to love the self, to love the neighbor, and especially
to love the enemy across any and all boundaries that would dehumanize, alienate, and
separate. We call on all Americans of good conscious who gather across the country
to speak out for liberty and justice for all, always. As our modern day prophet Martin
Luther King Jr. noted, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”4
1 This article is an adapted Dean’s Forum at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, MA presented
February 10, 2015. See also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1vy0_Q_im4, “the Ferguson Protests.”
2 Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed on Aug. 9, 2014 by Darren Wilson, a white police
officer, in Ferguson, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. The shooting prompted protests that roiled the area for weeks. On Nov. 24,
the St. Louis County prosecutor announced that a grand jury decided not to indict Mr. Wilson. The announcement set off
another wave of protests. See http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/08/13/us/ferguson-missouri-town-under-siege-afterpolice-shooting.html?_r=0 accessed 11 April 2015.
3 On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner died in Staten Island, New York City, after a police officer put him in a chokehold
for 15 seconds. New York Police Department officers approached Garner on suspicion of selling “loosies” (single cigarettes)
from packs without tax stamps. After Garner told the police that he was tired of being harassed and that he was not selling
cigarettes, the officers went to arrest Garner. When Officer Daniel Pantaleo took Garner’s wrist behind his back, Garner
swatted his arms away. Pantaleo then put his arm around Garner’s neck and pulled him backwards and down onto the
ground. After Pantaleo removed his arm from Garner’s neck, he pushed Garner’s face into the ground while four officers
moved to restrain Garner, who repeated “I can’t breathe” eleven times while lying face down on the sidewalk. After Garner
lost consciousness, officers turned him onto his side to ease his breathing. Garner remained lying on the sidewalk for seven
minutes while the officers waited for an ambulance to arrive. The officers and EMTs did not perform CPR on Garner at the
scene; according to a spokesman for the PBA, this was because they believed that Garner was breathing and that it would
be improper to perform CPR on someone who was still breathing. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital
approximately one hour later. The medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide. On December 3, 2014, a grand jury
decided not to indict Pantaleo. The event stirred public protests and rallies with charges of police brutality. As of December
28, 2014, at least 50 demonstrations had been held nationwide specifically for Garner while hundreds of demonstrations
against general police brutality counted Garner as a focal point. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Eric_Garner accessed
11 April 2015.
4 Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom (Boston: Beacon, 1958) cited in “An Open Letter to Presidents and

4

In part, not simply as a response to that open letter, we do want to enter the conversation to
think out loud about the nature of justice and injustice in a world like ours and to speak about it in
light of the vocations, for which many of you are here to prepare: to speak into the public square
with the values and the virtues of reconciliation that emerge out of the gospel. So let me just say
a very brief word about who’s going to be on our panel this morning. Our very own dean of our
Boston campus, Dr. Mark Harden, is going to lead off our comments, Professor of Community
Development and Outreach. As well as the dean of the Boston Campus, long time Dean of
Intercultural Relations at Bethel Seminary before coming here to Gordon-Conwell. Ordained as
a Baptist pastor as well, he is uniquely qualified to speak into this set of issues. Also, he was on
the police force in Detroit, Michigan for ten years before entering into ministry. Beside Mark, our
President Dr. Dennis Hollinger, Professor of Christian Ethics, speaks into questions of our civil
order and disorder. Dennis is a board member also of the National Association of Evangelicals, a
group that has wrestled with questions of justice and injustice as well. We know by now that it is
imperative that we think about how the gospel affects the head and the heart and the hands, as Dr.
Hollinger has written. Finally, but truly not least, new to our campus is Dr. Emmett Price. Now, I
can call him one of our own since he is an adjunct professor here at Gordon-Conwell, teaching a
course for us this semester on the theology and practice of worship. When he’s not here for us, he’s
actually an Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology and Music Industry at Northeastern University,
having also chaired the African-American studies department at Northeastern. Since Emmett is a
scholar of hip hop, of jazz, of spirituals, of world music, I think there are few things of merit of
which he is not a scholar. A longtime pastor, he is also an alumnus of Gordon-Conwell. So, it is a
great honor and privilege to have all three of these individuals. I’m going to turn the mike over to
Dr. Harden first and, then, without introduction, over to Dr. Hollinger, and, then, Dr. Price.
Dr. Harden:
Thank you Dr. Lints and I especially thank you Dr. Lints for making this happen. This is a
timely and a very important issue that I’ve dealt with my entire life, especially in my professional
life. I have basically broken up what I want to say into three parts: I want to talk about the
African-American context, the police training and the reality of being a police officer, and, then, my
experience as a researcher and teacher in the area of intercultural relations and what I’ve learned
that I think is fitting for helping us to deal with the challenge of racial reconciliation in particular,
but not only racial reconciliation, but any reconciliation around any of the “isms,” sexism, and
ageism, and so forth that we have to deal with as individuals in our lives. But, what I want to put
into “context,” when I say an African-American context, is really my personal observation, a part
of my story, but not just my story, but your story as well. As I look around the room - and this is
frightening - 99 percent of you seem to be younger than I am. So this is indeed a historical moment.
But I also want to apologize for I came here by way of Minnesota and I did not intend to bring
Minnesota with me, but it seems as though we’re back in Minnesota just these last few weeks.
But what do I mean by “our story”? We have gotten to this black and white language and a
few of us in this room know that it hasn’t always been black and white language. In the past, it
was many languages. Our country has an overarching story that draws us all into its history. There
was a time where Italians were lynched in every single state in this country along with African
slaves and African-Americans after slavery and the Jews and the Irish were also persecuted and
so forth. And so this sort of ethno-centric behavior has really given us a dark side of our history
in this country. And it doesn’t just happen between neighbor and neighbor. It happens between
systems. It’s corrupted many of our systems, our health systems, our economic systems, our political
systems, our court and justice systems, and so forth, and even our family systems. When I was
Deans of Theological Schools in the United States” published on Huffingtonpost.com on 17 January 2015.

5

a kid, they would just say you were a black person, even if you had white parents or you were
biracial, you didn’t have a choice in the matter. Today, people have a choice to say what they have.
But the courts for over 100 years have made decisions based on white power. Not just going back
in the reconstruction era, but even in recent years, the early part of the twentieth century, White
power had to remain. And I understand by teaching for ten years on racial relations in ministry
and seminary that a lot of my “white brothers and sisters” often would resist the whole notion of
“privilege.” But privilege was a legal matter in many ways and it was argued and judicated. And
there was Jim Crow that was instituted that we weren’t able to conquer and get rid of. Jim Crow in
a legal sense continued until the 1960s.
But if you think about that context, you realize this context is important. Before World War
II ethnicity was a huge deal, but, going around the world, our G.I.s were exposed to cultures
around the world and then they came back. So, in the 1950s, in the United States we tried to make
everything better by saying that we’re all one. This is where the phrase “melting pot” comes in, that
America is diverse and is a “melting pot.” But there was still the status quo so everybody wasn’t
included in the melting pot. So, then, you were no longer Irish, or Polish-American or ItalianAmerican, you were just “White.” So this notion of “white” has in recent decades come to sear into
our brain and our mind. And then in reaction to whiteness and the civil rights movements, there
was “blackness” that produced “Black power.” That’s when I grew up. I grew up in the context
where we were no longer going to be labeled “negroes,” but we were going to call ourselves “Black”
in opposition to White power, by which we were being left out. And that was the reality. And so
the civil rights victories happened and out of that we eventually were called “African-Americans.”
I still talk to people today who don’t really understand the term “African-Americans.” So a part
of our story is understanding. One philosopher, Bill Jones, says, “We jump from segregation into
integration without understanding differences.”5 And that was our problem.
And I would go further than that: it’s not just understanding the differences within humanity,
but also understanding the oneness of humanity that’s critical. And a lot of us Christians who
preach that and prophesy and so forth and try to live that, we fail miserably because we are
capable and wired in such a way, that ethnocentric way, that we respond to differences. And, even
though we believe in Jesus in our hearts, we still have prejudices that we harbor against people
simply because of differences. And, so, “African-American” to me is an ethnic term in this specific
culture. Yes, I’m black, but that’s a racial term and that’s because of the history of our country. As
opposed to African-American, I’m black in a racial sense, but I’m African-American, different than
Jamaican-American, different from Caribbean-American, and even Cuban-American, where I have
Afro brothers and Puerto Rican-Americans, where I have Afro brothers. We all share blackness, but
we don’t all share ethnicity and culture necessarily. But, once you build up in your mind or make up
your mind even unconsciously that people of a certain racial category have certain behaviors and
differences about them that you reify,6 as we say as social scientists, and we set them apart from
ourselves as though we’re not connected to them and as though they are so different, we make them
inferior by comparison to ourselves, ourselves whom we know and them whom we don’t know.
They become “other.” And that is the story that we’re living with and trying to work out.
Now, I was trained as a police officer. For six months, police officers go through training
of four and a half to six months, depending on what department and what level of government
you’re in. But after all of that training, for the street police officer, you walk away with three things
you don’t forget that they drill into you. One is that, when you use your firearm, you’re using
deadly force, even when you just pull it out. You have the potential to use deadly force. There is
5 Shared in a lecture from the readings by Dr. John McKinney of Systematic Theology at Samuel DeWitt Proctor
School of Theology in January 2015 at the ATS Conference for African American Chief Academic Officers in Winston Salem,
NC.
6 “Reify” refers to the common practice of treating people as “objects” so that they can be examined “objectively”
apart from the bias of the inquirer.

6

no wounding the person or in between. It’s very black and white. So they drill that when you pull
your firearm out, and you make up in your mind to use that firearm, you shoot to kill, you don’t
shoot to wound. That’s the training that you walk away with. But the police officer, the common
police officer, knows three laws, three court decisions. They know many, but three are on their
mind. One is Tennessee vs. Garner, where in 1985 the Supreme Court ruled that you cannot shoot
a fleeing felon at all, ever. Unless the person has a hand grenade and he’s about to throw it into a
crowd, then you’ve got a little decision where you can justify it. But if the person is unarmed, you
cannot shoot a fleeing felon even if you know that they just robbed a bank with something like a
blunt knife. You can’t shoot them. Every officer knows that. The second thing you learn is Miranda:
that you read them their rights. They have the right to due process, that they cannot be convicted
and executed in the street. Every officer knows that. Thirdly, you learn Terry vs. Ohio. I still
remember these things being removed from law enforcement. And Terry is the pat-down fist. You
pat somebody down and the courts said that the only right you have to pat somebody down to see
what’s under their garment is when you suspect that your life is in danger. You can’t just, because
you’re a police officer, search someone and violate their constitutional rights. Those are three things
that every officer knows.
So I have mixed feelings when I watch all of what’s happening on the news in regards to all of
these cases. And I do view these cases as very different. And I do reflect on the many times I’ve been
shot at and the many times I’ve had to make a decision whether to shoot, I reflect on that. I know
what it’s like to let your guard down and discover that an assailant that you just apprehended had
a gun. And that body language you noticed was him or her looking for an opportunity to take
you out. I know what that’s like first-hand. I know what it’s like to be in that great moment. Now,
when I graduated from the police academy, they said, “You can’t shoot anybody. When you draw
your gun, that’s when you intend to kill. You’ve made up mentally in your mind to do that.” When
I became a police officer and I came across my senior training officer in the field and we would
walk into a dangerous situation, he would say, “Where’s your gun?” I go, “It’s in my holster, I don’t
take it out unless I plan to kill somebody.” And he says, “Oh no. You pull it out and you get it
ready because somebody might be behind the door ready to take you out.” So there’s the training
you have, but then there’s the reality of the streets in which you have to make a call when you pull
out your gun. So I do empathize and I do understand. But I have to confess to you that I have not
agreed with every decision that has been handed down in that regard. But I understand that the first
rule of every day is to go home alive. And when there is a potential threat, your training tells you,
“Eliminate the threat. Eliminate it.”
Now, the problem comes in recognizing humanity. Eighty-five percent of the people in this
world are not aware of their social identity and who they are culturally.7 I mean, people tell us
we’re male, people tell us we’re female, people tell us we’re Black or White, or whatever. We already
know that statistically, as social scientists. We know that 15 percent of that 85 percent are people
who avoid differences altogether. They don’t talk about it, they just are in this avoidance mode.
They just don’t even think about “those people.” In fact, there’s too much anxiety for them to deal
with it. So they go along in life happily pretending that there’s no other people, but there’s just me
and my group. Then there’s that second level group that has experienced differences and they’ve
reacted to it in such a way that they develop a fear, I would say, a prejudice. Now, God wired us
all to be prejudiced. There’s nobody in this room who doesn’t have prejudices. I’m sorry. God has
wired us to stereotype. That’s a part of human survival. We need to stereotype because we need to
figure out who this person or those people are. We fill in the blanks ourselves when we don’t fill in
7 Interculturalists such as Milton Bennett and Mitch Hammer produced results such as the Intercultural Development
Inventory (IDI) based on grounded research that suggests that only approximately 15 percent of the people in the world
achieve intercultural sensitivity beyond ethnocentrism, without an intervention to increase cultural self-awareness. See:
Hammer and Bennett, “Measuring Intercultural Sensitivity: The Intercultural Development Inventory,” International Journal
of Intercultural Relations 27:4 (2003): 421-443.

7

the right information. We all do that naturally because we’re wired that way. The problem comes
when we’re not open to realizing that, instead of stereotyping serving us as servants, it becomes our
masters. And my fear is that some police officers do indeed allow their stereotypical information
to become the master at that moment in their judgment. And that’s my opinion based on research
in terms of these categories. But people who cannot humanize others because they allowed a
stereotype to dehumanize the other for them are more dangerous than any other group.
Dr. Hollinger:
Thank you, Mark, for very insightful comments and thank you all for coming for this very
important discussion today. I think that what happened in Ferguson in both the killing of Michael
Brown and in the events following give clear evidence that we have a lot of unfinished business in
American society. All of us know that we have a very sad history when it comes to racial issues:
the brutal institution of slavery, the Jim Crow Laws following emancipation, (which, as Mark says,
continued up until the 1960s and were at the heart of the Civil Rights Movements), and of course
the kinds of racism and prejudice that continue into the twenty-first century.
If you have not seen the movie Selma, let me really encourage you to see it. It is a very
insightful movie, providing a lens into what happened in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. People
can quibble, as they do always about movies and their historical interpretation, but it is a very
powerful movie and I commend it to you. In that movie, you see precisely what was going on in
the 1960s, where a woman goes to register to vote and is asked all kinds of questions that I could
not have answered with a Ph.D. She is denied the right to vote despite answering almost all the
questions correctly, except for one bizarre question. It was a really unbelievable scene.
I spent the first ten years of my life living in southern Alabama in a very rural, remote, racist
area. I remember it well as a child: the “white only” signs in restrooms, the “white only” signs in
drinking fountains. I recall the reaction of my classmates when the Supreme Court handed down
the decision of desegregation in the 1950s. Too often it seems to me that society at large and the
Christian Church in particular have turned a blind eye to what was happening and is happening
today. My sister and brother-in-law live near Chicago in a very highly educated area. They recently
went to see the movie Selma. After the movie, they heard a woman say to her husband, “Did that
really happen?” They went out into the corridor of the theatre and they heard a couple ask an older
man who had clearly lived through the 1960s, “Did you ever hear about that in the news? Did you
ever hear in the news about what was going on then?” And the response was, “I don’t remember
hearing much about it.” I can tell you, as one having lived through the 1960s, you had to be in
hibernation, to have your head in the sand, not to know what was going on in the 1960s with
regards to the Civil Rights Movements. But the point is that many chose then and many choose
now to deny reality.
As we think about Ferguson, the precipitating event and the responses to it, our own personal
experiences and our perceptions on racial issues in general have a huge impact in how we respond.
Even our interpretations of what may have or may not have happened with Michael Brown,
a young African-American, and the white police officer Darren Wilson, are impacted by our
experiences and by our perceptions. Those of you who have taken an ethics class with me know
that one of the things I talk about is that our differences on ethical issues and social issues are
not just about the differing principles we might use, or differing moral paradigms, or differing
interpretations of the biblical text. Often our differences are about differing interpretations of the
facts.8 What was going on in the situation? Our empirical judgments about the realities around us
have a profound impact and our perceptions and our experiences in life feed into that powerfully.
This was brought home to me in a very clear way last fall. I was at a gathering of evangelical
8 See Dennis Hollinger, Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 174186.

8

leaders and the president of NAE, the National Association of Evangelicals, told of an incident
at a conference he attended a couple of years ago that was focused on racial justice and racial
reconciliation. One of the African-American gentlemen who spoke asked a question. He said, “First
of all I want to ask a question to my White brothers here. How many of you as Whites have taught
your son that when you are pulled over by a police officer, you keep your hand on the steering
wheel and you look straight ahead?” No hands went up. He then said, “To my Black brothers, how
many of you have taught your sons that if you’re pulled over by a police officer, you keep your
hands on the steering wheel and you look straight ahead?” Ninety percent of the African-American
hands went up. As a white male, I have never been pulled over because of the color of my skin. I
do not know what that is like. And I think police officers probably had some traffic violations they
could have pulled against me for speeding a bit, but I have not had to endure what my brothers
on each side of me have had to endure just in that arena of life. Obviously, our social contexts
powerfully shape our perceptions of what is happening and those perceptions impact how we
respond to events like Ferguson.
As I think about Ferguson and the protest responses, it drives me to ask, “What is a healthy
society? What is a healthy community?” One way of thinking about this is to say that a healthy
society is one that can hold three things together and hold them together in a kind of healthy
tension. Those three are: justice, freedom and order. If you have a society in which one of those
dominates and the others are neglected, you are bound to have trouble. And, actually, I think the
case can be made that, historically, these three things (justice, freedom, order) represent differing
theories about political life and about the nature and purpose of the state.9 First, a society that
emphasizes all justice and freedom but no order would end up with what? Anarchy. When you have
anarchy, it is pretty hard to achieve justice and you often end up in a very oppressive state, despite
the original purpose of achieving freedom. Many have noted that that is precisely what happened
in the eighteenth century with the French Revolution. However, a society that emphasizes order
and neglects freedom and justice tends towards oppression. Rights are neglected and freedom is
minimized. It seems to me that we need a society, in terms of both the political order and the culture
at large, that is truly committed to justice, which means procuring basic rights for all and making
sure that there are fair mechanisms in place. This reflects the systemic part that Mark mentioned:
mechanisms in place to ensure justice. Second, we need freedom for all people to live and work as
they desire; to carry on life as they determine. I often like to point out that our plea for freedom
will mean that some people in their freedom will choose ways of life that will be contrary to our
Christian commitments. But we ensure that freedom as long as that freedom does not stamp upon
the freedom and justice of others. And, third, we need order in which lawlessness is held in check
and people are held accountable by both law and, as a last resort, by force in order to maintain
order in that society.
My sense is that what happened in Ferguson in both the precipitating event and the aftermath,
particularly in terms of the local government as well as the state of Missouri, was that order
dominated to the neglect of freedom and justice. And, when that happens, it is bound to result in
protest and, unfortunately, there is often counter violence to the initiating or precipitating violence.
As Dr. Martin Luther King so powerfully evidenced in his life and teaching and as was so lucidly
portrayed in the movie Selma, there is a place for peaceful protest and sometimes even thoughtful
civil disobedience to bring about change in a society.10 The intentions and the parameters of the
protest must of course be abundantly clear as it always was for Dr. King and the Civil Rights
Movements in the 1960s. What Dr. King knew so well, and I think was forgotten in Ferguson, is
9 For a more detailed analysis of this see Dennis Hollinger, “The Purpose of Government: A Theological Perspective,”
in Timothy Demy and Gary Stewart (eds.), Politics and Public Policy: A Christian Response (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000),
23-36.
10 For an insightful account of the Civil Rights Movement seeking change see Charles Marsh, God’s Long Summer:
Stories of Faith and Civil Rights (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).

9

that justice, freedom, and order must go hand-in-hand. All three must exist in a healthy tension
with each other. One can, I believe, make a case biblically and theologically for each of those three.
I believe that we need to make strides in American society and in other societies around the
world as well, as we are not the only country that has a race or ethnic problem. It is everywhere;
it is ubiquitous throughout the entire world. Travel into any society and you will find it. And, if
we are to make strides on these issues, it seems to me that we need to be committed to that very
healthy tension. We do not like tensions, but conceptually, sometimes tensions are the best way in
which we can live, holding together justice, freedom, and order. And of course these commitments
must begin in the Church.11
Dr. Price:
As always it’s a privilege to be here and I thank all of you for your attention and your prayers
through this dialogue. I think this is a very important conversation, one that we all come to with
our own perspectives, proclivities, and perceptions, as well. And I think it’s healthy to have this
conversation here at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I always wonder, “Why is it that there
are not more of these kinds of conversations at places like Gordon-Conwell, amongst those of
us who are seeking God’s guidance in these situations? Why is it not that the public conversation
starts here?” So my approach to this is as a person who was born and reared in the city of Los
Angeles, California. Some people call where I was reared south central, but there is really no south
central Los Angeles. And so, it seems to me, growing up in the midst of the legendary gang rivalries
between the Bloods and the Crips,12 and arguably one of the most corrupt police departments in
the country under the leadership of Daryl Gates,13 that our realities are not always shared. I want
to start there because it’s hard to have a common approach to seeing these situations and these
scenarios, when our lenses are not the same. Dr. Hollinger talked about the differing approach to
the gentleman who talked about the hands on the steering wheel when the cops pulled him over.
I learned that at six, and I remember it vividly because six was around the time when my parents
allowed me to walk down the street to the home of one of my surrogate grandmothers; she often
watched me afterschool or when my parents were working. I had to learn the rules of engagement
before I was allowed out of the house independently. And, so, if you talk about a young person
with an anxiety of the realities of life versus someone who doesn’t have that anxiety, you’re talking
about two very different worlds. For some, freedom sounds and looks different, justice sounds
and looks different, and order sounds and looks different because, from my perspective, order was
either not getting caught or being able to have safe passage from one place to another place. It was
never the sense that the civil servants were there to serve and protect you; they were there to protect
and serve everybody else but you. Whether that’s right or wrong, I can’t get into that right now, but
the reality of certain individuals when we come to the table to have this conversation is different.
That’s why in certain areas when people say that “justice delayed is justice denied,”14 it becomes
11 For an account of Evangelicals and race see Peter G. Heltzel, Jesus and Justice: Evangelicals, Race and American
Politics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009). For a concrete proposal for dealing with racism in society see Joseph
Barndt, Understanding and Dismantling Racism: The Twenty-First Century Challenge to White America (Minneapolis:
Fortress, 2007).
12 During the 1970s and 1980s, gang violence in Los Angeles was at an all-time high primarily due to the highly
publicized rivalry between the Bloods and the Crips. Each was a network of smaller sets, or clusters of gangsters who had
dominion over certain neighborhoods, or regions, otherwise known as turfs. Each turf was demarked by coded graffiti and
in some cases colored signage.
13 From 1978 to 1992, Daryl Gates served as Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and was
responsible for the development of militarized tactics to combat rising street gang violence. He is cited as the co-creator of
the Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) and was a huge advocate of the use of the Public Disorder and Intelligence
Division (PDID) and Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH), all of which preyed on inner-city
neighborhoods, causing tremendous collateral damage, destruction, and death. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daryl_Gates
accessed on 18 May 2015.
14 Although not it’s origin, the reference is most notably attributed to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter from
Birmingham Jail” (published in Why We Can’t Wait [New York, NY: Penguin, 1964]), where he writes, “Justice too long
delayed is justice denied.” Activists of numerous movements have used various derivatives of this quotation to demand

10

difficult to have the divine patience to wait for that moment when we all are equal and all can
benefit from justice. My colleagues here have talked about the notion of power and about white
privilege and what I would call systems of oppression. I will talk about the fact that reconciliation
really doesn’t come until we focus on the common denominators as well as “the least of these.”
Reconciliation does not come until we focus on the common denominators. Because, when we
come to the table, when we come to talk about racial reconciliation, whoever’s representing the
various races or ethnicities and nationalities at the table always comes with an agenda. There are
certain things that we want, but the question is always, “What are you willing to give up?” And
that’s when the table goes silent. When we talk about the freedoms that come with privilege, or the
freedoms that come with the sense of privileged justice, or the freedom that comes from a sense of
privileged order, and the fact of having to give up those privileges, that’s a conversation we don’t
want to have. And so, that’s why we often talk about the conversation of racial relations in terms
of relationships to one another as opposed to racial reconciliation. We’re just not ready to have the
racial reconciliation conversation yet, because that means a shift of power. And we’ve been kind of
taught, depending on our mental approaches, that power is not necessarily yielded, it’s taken. And
so you have here this tension in terms of “What do you do when you want to do the right thing,
but you’re not necessarily willing to give up anything?”
That’s why I love the whole section in Acts 2-5. When you talk about the early church, you
see that the early church was really forming fellowship and community, particularly in Acts 2
around 42-47 where it says they were selling all of their possessions. We often fantasize about that
type of sacrificial commitment by saying, “It takes a village,” but usually that’s an outward thing.
I remember living in Los Angeles and we had some churches that were doing phenomenal global
mission work and they were raising money for fresh water over here (globally) and raising money
for clothes over there (globally), and I would always say to them, “People, right outside your
church, outside of the gate that you put up, you have people who need fresh water and who need
clothes.” Far too often we forget about the “least of these” right outside our front doors. We’re
doing good work; we’re doing global missionary work. And I’m not suggesting that’s not good.
I believe God has called some of us to do some of that good global missionary work, but I also
believe that he has called some of us to be local missionaries in our own backyards, in our own
local neighborhoods.
So, the fact is that semantics, how we understand the meaning of these situations, is really
important. So such consciousness-raising causes anxiety, but disruption is necessary. I would argue
it’s necessary because, if we didn’t have disruption, then this aggregation of wonderful saints in
this room wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t have certain institutions where women could actually
be educated. We wouldn’t have opportunities for people of color and such marginalized people ,
if there was not disruption. Selma, the movie, was about a moment in time which was disruptive.
Whether we perceive it as disorder versus disruption - I’ll leave that to you to decide and to
distinguish between the two - disruption allows us to get out of our comfort zones and to realize
again what the common denominators are and who “the least of these” are.
When we look at the scenario in Ferguson and an eighteen year old African-American male
who was doing whatever he was doing, but received spontaneous capital punishment, we would
rather spend more time justifying why “he should have” versus lamenting with his parents. We
spend more time trying to justify what happened in our perception of the facts than thinking about
the other young people who were there and the anxieties that they now carry. We spend more time
trying to figure out what lawyer is going to use what trick to get this and not get this - “Why didn’t
they have a special prosecutor?” “Who’s on the jury box” - instead of trying to bring healing to a
city that will forever be scarred.
expediency in addressing systemic oppression.

11

And, for me, that’s where the conversation is. Because we can talk about what he did and
didn’t do, but I could talk about the Apostle Paul and what he did or didn’t do and the fact that
Paul received forgiveness and became a phenomenal ambassador for Christ’s love because he got a
chance to live. And, so it comes down to life or death, which, is the source of the anxiety.
As a Black man, I got pulled over three months ago by a police officer. Now, I get to talk all
over the world, phenomenal places. I’m on the radio once a week on WGBH, which is, you know,
Boston’s NPR station, and I got pulled over three months ago! And guess what I did? I put my
hands on the steering wheel and when the police officer came to the window, my window was up,
my wife was sitting in the passenger seat of the minivan, my two sons were behind me, and my
father-in-law was behind me. And the officer says, “Your license and registration.” I still have my
hands on the steering wheel and I said, “Officer, I’m going to release my left hand off the steering
wheel to push the button on my door to roll the window down.” This is what my father taught
me at the age of six. Talk about anxiety. Every move that I made, I announced it first. “Officer, I’m
taking my left hand and I’m going to put it in my left pocket to retrieve my wallet, which I will
bring up and I will sit it on the steering wheel so you can watch me open my wallet to pull my
license out. It’s on the left side, there’s a flap here.” And so the officer looked at me and he looked
in my van and saw my wife, saw my eleven year old and my nine year old whose eyes were big and
bulging because they already understood what to do but had never seen me have to do it. So, they
carry the anxiety as well. They didn’t know what was going to happen to me.
And so the point that I’m trying to make is that we all come to this conversation from different
places and, before we can have the conversation, we have to acknowledge what our platforms are,
we have to acknowledge where we enter this conversation. That’s why the challenge in this country
and around the world of having these conversations of race relations, which will eventually, I pray,
get to racial reconciliation, is the first conversation to be transparent and vulnerable, to allow fears
to be heard, to allow concerns and cares to be voiced, and for each you to express where you’re
coming from. Because, when we put our cards on the table, we disarm one another. Then we can
actually have real conversation which brings real healing, which brings forward progress, which
brings, I believe, glory to God.
Response by Dr. Patrick Smith15:
Thanks to each of you for your participation on this panel. It is a very, very important
conversation and resonated much with me. Dr. Harden, I’d love to hear you maybe chat just a little
bit about a distinction between “law enforcement” and “policing” and maybe a distinction between
bad policing and good policing and maybe the recent rise in the kind of the militarizing of policing
probably in the last approximate twenty-five years. And, then, Dr. Price and Dr. Hollinger, if you
could touch a little bit as you mentioned, Dr. Price, about the first conversation being about being
vulnerable and expressing where we’re coming from. One of the challenges that many AfricanAmericans have had in talking about this whole thing is the fact that oftentimes they don’t feel that
at least, let’s say, African-American males can be angry, because to become angry about something
becomes life threatening. So, maybe, you both can reflect a little bit on the role of anger with respect
to perceived social injustice in Christian ethics.
Dr. Harden: That last question was tough, so I’ll let Dr. Hollinger handle that. But I think your
question really is a good one and, again, let me offer a little historical context. By the way, I too
was taught as Emmett was. I don’t think I was yet six years old, but I was taught, and reinforced
throughout my whole life, how to behave with police officers. And I thought I was doing a pretty
good job and, yet, as a teenager, I was beaten by police officers. So, even though I’m proud of my
career in police work, at that time, I had to be able to overcome those challenges and still become
15 Dr. Patrick Smith is Associate Professor of Philosophical Theology and Ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological
Seminary, Hamilton, MA.

12

a police officer, which is another story, another forum. But in the 1980s, the militarization of law
enforcement began to grab hold. Laws changed. We had administrative laws come in where the “bad
guy,” especially as it relates to drugs, knew the laws and they knew what they could get away with
and so one of the things that would often happen is that people would get arrested and they would
have so much money, they would be able to get their money back even being caught in their role in
the crime. Then we changed the laws, the administrative laws, so we could take their money from
them. These were “forfeiture laws.” A lot of it started in Los Angeles. A strong emphasis grew out of
the ‘70s on policing. So when you say “policing” to me, that means, as a police officer, I could walk
down the street on a beat and say, “hi” to someone. They would give me a drink of soda out of their
backyard barbecue party and I could know everybody’s name in the barbershop into which I walked.
As a police officer, people knew me and they called me. So there was this kind of, you know, “they
watched my back,” that was the expectation. That, if I get in trouble, if I can’t get to my radio, you
guys, you’ll call help for me. There was this community relationship building and what we found
out, by research, is that that was what so effectively developed programs such as D.A.R.E.. Many of
you heard of D.A.R.E., an education for children in schools against drugs. That was almost like a
partnership through policing. And, the image that they burned in our mind was that, if you were an
effective police officer, then you never have to draw your gun. When I became a police officer, some
of the best officers I admired were those who never drew their gun. They never raised their voice
because they knew the escalation matrix that happened when you raise your voice.
You know, I was stopped a few weeks ago and the officer came to my car and he yelled at
me. And my hands were on the steering wheel and I was confused because I thought I was doing
everything I was supposed to do. But I thought to myself, “Like whoa. We were taught that the state
police were the model police officers because, when they gave you a ticket, you thank them because
they were so nice about it.” Can you imagine saying, “Thank you officer,” for a $190 ticket? And so
that’s what we refer to in policing. But, now enforcement and apprehension are both another thing
entirely. It seems to me in recent years, being able to fight (i.e., enforcement) against the rise of using
drugs and the apprehension of bad guys, was being emphasized. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, if you recall,
drug wars escalated, not only between rival drug dealers and their gangs, but even with the police.
And so that contributed to the change of mindset in terms of the politicians and the government and
army police officers.
But what we’re talking about now is how did we lose sight of policing? That’s a very good
question. And, so, when we think about remedies and so forth, we have to think about what we’re
asking for. Are we asking for police officers to wear full armor, more armor, and fire larger bullets? I
don’t even know if they can get larger, or are we asking for more policing?
Dr. Hollinger: Can I just follow up with a question on that, Mark? I often hear people say that
one ought to be able to shoot to wound and prevent as opposed to shoot to kill. Is that just an
unrealistic idea, would you say as a former police officer? Or could that be implemented as well?
Dr. Harden: It’s totally unrealistic. We’re trained to shoot twice and both are in the kill area.
We never shoot to wound. Police officers are not trained to do that. There’s a case law behind that
rationale and there’s also anecdotal evidence of surviving an incident so you never shoot someone
because, when you use your firearm, it is considered deadly force. And courts have ruled that, once
you use it, it’s deadly for you. You can’t use a handgun to partially kill somebody. That’s just the
general rule.
Dr. Price: This notion of anger, I think it’s a great, great, great topic because, you know, I used to
believe - and I don’t believe this anymore - but I used to believe that it was sinful to be angry. I had a
Sunday school teacher at some point in my life who would teach it’s sinful to be angry, but my own
reading of the Bible says that anger is part of human nature. The challenge is not to allow your anger
to make you sin. And I think that’s where the distinction is. Yes, there are a number of individuals,
13

black, white, yellow, blue, magenta, fuchsia, who have anger that has not been dealt with and so, for
me, part of our Christian journey and part of our faith walk is really to deal with those unreconciled
issues that we have along the way. Pastorally, I find a lot of young men of color who have a chip
on their shoulder and whether the chip is reasonable or not is not my issue. The issue is: let’s do the
work to get rid of the chip because there’s a lot of life to be lived and you’re not living to your fullest
or as abundantly as you can be living, as the word says, with the chip on your shoulder. And, so, a
part of our challenge as pastors and as clergy is to help people deal with their unreconciled issues
where anger is a huge one. Part of the notion is that there’s a role of forgiveness in this situation.
There’s a role for expressing your fears and your frustrations, but also your failed expectations. And,
I think, in those conversations we’re actually able to deal with our anger. If there’s something that
I’m angry about right now, it’s about the privatization of the prison industrial complex. I’m angry
about that. That people are endeavoring to make a whole lot of money on what we’re calling the
preschool-to-prison pipeline. Where they identify individuals, mostly in inner-city situations, and
basically say that, based on their early examinations, they’re not going to be anything so we’re going
to create “a cot and three hots” for them, because they’re going to end up in prison. The bed in the
prison cell is the cot. And the three meals a day are the three hots. We’re going to create a trajectory
by which we know that we’re going to need “x” amount of prison cells in the coming years, so
we’re going to build these prisons with private investors who will actually make money on this. I’m
absolutely angry about that, but I pray that my anger doesn’t create sin. And so, I think, we try to
reconcile that.
Dr. Hollinger: My take on that is that anger is, first of all, a good gift of God and, like many
of the good gifts of God, it can get misused in our fallenness. And I do not think we can deal with
issues of justice without some degree of anger. When I watched Selma and I saw the woman turned
away by the clerk when she went to register to vote, I was angry. I mean I said something out loud
and I do not know if Mary Ann remembers it. I was just visceral! I do not think we can deal with
injustices without anger. So I look at it that there has got to be several different kinds of anger. There
is, as Emmett said, that anger which is a sin. Be angry and yet do not sin. Do not let the sun go down
on your wrath. But there is an anger which is a more principled anger. Then there is an anger which
takes control of us emotionally and we lose all perspective. That emotion is not balanced by other
good emotions, which I think are important to achieve harmony and make progress in our lives
and in society as a whole. I would simply add to that, Scripture describes God, the wrath of God,
the anger of God, which I take it is not just a rage kind of anger, but a more principled anger at the
wrong, the sin, and the violations of human beings in our world.
Questions to the Panel from the Audience:
Question 1: Dr. Price, speaking about being in Los Angeles, would you maybe draw some
comparisons between the ‘91, ‘92 Rodney King riots and what’s been happening in the last one to two
years here. But, more specifically, looking back on what the Christian conversation was about and
the kind of interpretation and reaction and response, is there anything we can learn from that? Or, is
there anything that you think that we should be remembering from that time that maybe some of us
have blind spots to?
Dr. Price: Sure, that’s a great question. I’m really glad you asked that. I did a book a couple of
years ago called The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture: Toward Bridging the Generational Divide,16
an edited volume, and in the introduction to the book, I argue that, if the Church - and I use the Black
Church as a case study for the church at large - if the Black Church (and by extension the Church
at large) was where it should have been in the 1960s and the 1970s, we would not have Hip Hop
Culture. Because Hip Hop Culture emerged from disenfranchised and ostracized young people who
16 Emmett G. Price III, ed., The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture: Toward Bridging the Generational Divide
(Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2012).

14

felt like they didn’t have a voice and felt like the adults in their lives were just messing up everything,
so they used self-determination and created this culture for themselves to have an expression. In
1991-92, you find a confluence of different things. One, that Hip Hop Culture had been coopted and
commodified by corporate entities and so that the voice was gone. And, so, young people (and myself
being there) felt like we had absolutely no outlet. And for many of us, we sat in church and listened
to our preachers preach about forgiveness and about redemption and about all the great things that
we preach about, but when we’re on the streets and being harassed by police officers and whatnot,
there’s a total disconnect. And, as a young person, you’re actually looking for order. You’re looking
for the streets to reflect what the preacher’s preaching on Sunday. And, when there’s a disconnect,
you basically have so much anxiety, anger, angst that your only way out is to allow for what I would
call sinful nature. And, so, in that sense, there was so much absolute rage in ’91, ’92, particularly as a
response to the Rodney King verdict where these police officers who were videotaped, you know, were
exonerated. The question was: when does justice come? Young people took to the streets and looted
and did all kinds of heinous and horrific things. That doesn’t make them evil people; they just were
young people with rage who did evil things. I think that’s the other piece that we have. We do a lot of
name-calling, when we see people who are messing up their own neighborhoods, which happened in
Los Angeles. It was the African-American neighborhood that was ripped open, which was not right,
but it didn’t make the young people evil by nature. It made them young people with rage who were
doing evil things in response to what they saw, which is the same thing we see in Ferguson.
I lived in St. Louis for a year and St. Louis is a very interesting place because it literally is white
and black. There’s a certain street, Delmar Boulevard, which goes this way: on one side you had the
Black neighborhood and on the other side there’s a White neighborhood. It’s just that polarized.
And so you have these young people who felt like there was no opportunity for them to express
their rage. One of their young brothers had just gotten murdered in the street and his body was left
in the street for four and a half hours. You know all those particulars. And the fact was, that they
took to the streets. Now, there were clergy there and God bless those clergy. Some came from Boston
and surrounding areas to go there. But, my challenge is that we’re always reactive and we are rarely
proactive. And that’s the issue. So the divine timing piece is the aspect where we have to pay more
attention to the sounds and the feel of the streets, so that we can sense things coming and not be so
caught up in what we’re doing that we miss the buzz and the murmurs before incidents happen. I
think that’s our learning piece. Because, they are going to happen again; unfortunately this is going
to happen again. The question is, is the Church already going to be there to be able to intervene
and to intercede with prayer? With teaching? With fellowshipping? With preaching? With all the
things that we know to do to bring healing and hope to individuals who are hurt and hopeless. We
can do this systematic study and look at the population in Ferguson, the population of AfricanAmericans who voted in Ferguson before that happened was like twelve percent. So we know what
disenfranchisement and disengagement look like. Those are symptoms for what is to come, and so I
think the Church has to be ready to mobilize and be out there before things happen.
Question 2: I feel like this conversation is very Black and White. About Ferguson you see a lot of
vocal Anglo-Americans talking and a lot of African-Americans talking, but how could someone like
me, or Asian-Americans or Hispanic-Americans join that conversation and participate?
Dr. Price: I would like to say something quickly. I don’t think that you have to join the
conversation because you’re already a part of it. I think the fact that you see the conversation
as something that you have to join or be invited into is actually an issue in itself. We are all
disenfranchised in some way, shape, or form. Dean Harden talked about the “-isms” and the
“-phobias” already. And so we’re wrestling with that. When we looked at the protests on the I-93,17
17 On Thursday, January 15, 2015 the morning commute was disrupted by a number of protesters as part of the
ongoing “Black Lives Matter” movement that evolved from the shooting of Michael Brown Jr in Ferguson, MO. For more
information see: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/2015/01/15/protesters-shut-down-parts-milton-andsomerville/DnClQ7tovZlJiTXsoWsSZI/story.html.

15

the most recent ones, where young people cemented themselves to those pile-ons, while everybody
was kind of castigating the scenario, most people didn’t realize that only one or two of the twentysomething people were African-American. There was a diverse population. There was one young lady
who was indigenous; there were a couple young ladies who were of Asian descent. If you actually go
to the websites about the Ferguson protest movements, you’ll discover that we’re actually missing:
that the movement at large is actually not simply White and/or Black. It’s a whole bunch of people
who represent all kinds of cross sectors of life. So the challenge is, how do we allow our conversations
that we’re having in these certain pockets to connect and unite with the other conversations that
are going on across the neighborhoods, towns, states, regions, and country? I think that’s where the
beauty is. When we can push the conversations and allow them to link up, as opposed to having just
the group at Gordon-Conwell, the group at Northeastern, the group at wherever. Let’s have these
conversations connect and live!
Dr. Harden: There’s not much to add to that. I just want to say, I’ve seen connections all over the
world. Whether you go to the suburbs of Paris or South Africa, you’ll see. You won’t just see black
South Africans, you’ll see a lot of Asians, Chinese, Indians and so forth there, all caring about that one
issue. And so it is more diverse than we give it credit for. Often, it’s just that, in this scenario, you have
us three up here (in the panel). It looks like it’s just Black and White, you know? But the president is
not just White.
Dr. Hollinger: He is though. One thing I would add: I think if you look closely at the tensions
that are occurring in American society, they aren’t just White/Black. They go in multiple ways and I
think that’s important to understand: I think that as demographic shifts occur over time, we may see
greater tensions between varying ethnic groups and so I think it’s helpful for us to remember that,
even though historically it was a White/Black issue in many ways, prejudice has become much more
diverse in our own time.
Question 3: Thank you all again. One of the things I’d like to ask about Ferguson and the U.S.
Senate is the issue of delayed justice, even denied justice. And, so, one of the things I’m thinking
about is that, even just the fact that we’re talking about Ferguson right now, is kind of late, would
you agree? But it’s good that we need to be doing it. But, Eric Garner also happened. You know,
we haven’t mentioned much about that, at least I didn’t hear it, but that was a big thing for our
generation to see. You can google that and just watch everything take place. So that was like a tipping
scale for at least me and people ethnically like me to say like, “Whoa!” You know, the Ferguson thing
was a removed thing where it was, like, maybe you weren’t there, you don’t know what it’s like to be
a police officer. You never lived in the streets. You don’t know anything. With Eric Garner, that was
like I was just standing on the sidewalk - even though I’m watching it on my computer - it was as if I
was standing on the sidewalk watching the whole thing. So, I think this is doing a lot in the minds of
a lot of people. Even right now, I think people are ready to say, “We agree. You don’t need to convince
us anymore.” Thank you for explaining it even more so and giving us the history of it. We needed
that as well. But we agree, now what do we do? “How can we move in for the healing?” From here
on, after leaving this conversation, where do we as leaders go in our own churches, community, and
leadership? How do we leverage privileged leadership, influence, all that, and what can you say to
people with M.Divs. getting ready to enter where all of you are sitting in years to come. How do we
move forward?
Dr. Price: This is a brilliant question because we’ve been kind of myopically localized in Ferguson.
From that moment, when that happened, until the end of December, there were 35 different situations
like that. So part of the issue is the medialization of the scenarios. And the fact that we’re getting the
facts second-hand through a commodified entity. I’ll talk about this as the era of TMZ.18 Because
18 Self-described as a celebrity news outlet, TMZ emerged as a website in 2005 with the goal of being the first to
break news on celebrities who live and operate within the “thirty mile zone” (TMZ) of the majority of celebrity activity. In
2007, the website launched its first television show that has since served as the leading provider of breaking news on often

16

TMZ is dropping dimes on everybody. So part of the challenge is that we have been looking at this as
an objectification of a male body situation, but there have been females who have been murdered as
well and their stories are rarely told. The Boko Haram situation got two and a half days in the media
and then it went away. So, there has to be this sense of our ability to embrace these real-life situations
and bring them into the folds of our ministry. The people at my congregation asked the same question
that you asked. It’s great that we can theorize, great that we can analyze, but, what do we do? So
my response to you is the same response that I’m going to give to the class that I’m teaching on the
history of the theology of worship. You can’t worship the same way. Because, when you carry the
burdens of these individuals, it changes the very nature of your worship. It changes the very nature of
your lament. It changes the very nature of how you pray and for whom you pray. Are we willing to do
the hard work to pray for those who trespass against us? See, that’s a hard one. It takes work to pray
for those who trespass against you. When we go into a “us” versus “them” scenario, then we create a
kind of bifurcation, a dichotomy, but God has challenged us to pray for those individuals. And that
changes the very nature of how we worship. And I’m not talking about changing our liturgy, or the
structure and the order of our services; I’m talking about our hearts. It forces us to be more forgiving
people. And that’s hard to do because we’re in pain, we’re hurt. And part of our healing is forgiving
those who trespass against us, praying for them, and then trying to hear their story, hear where they’re
coming from. Darren Wilson was an angry person. He was hurt. I don’t know what scenarios hurt
him in his life and they are none of my business, but the fact is that he was a hurt young man and he
deserves our prayers too. And it’s not more or less than Michael Brown Jr. and Michael Brown Jr.’s
family, but he deserves our prayers as well. Going back to Trayvon Martin, and his family, George
Zimmerman was a hurt individual. We can tell that and he needs our prayers as well. Because if we’re
going to walk in the faith, we can’t only pick the winning team. We pray for everybody.
Dr. Harden: Yes, I would like to add to that because on the practical side of your question Mr.
Luther King Jr. didn’t just protest, he organized. And, when we organize, we just don’t organize,
we communicate our values. And so you have to see all of these things as interconnected, not as ad
hoc actions that are disconnected. So they’re all important. So when we come together to discuss an
issue, when the administration puts together a session like this, we’re communicating what we value,
that the topic is too important for us not to talk about it. When Dr. Lints read the earlier part of the
statement, you’ll notice, the whole statement was asking seminaries to say something, not just to
sit on our hands, but talk about what was happening and do something. And, so, when we want to
change our homes, when we want to change our schools, when we want to change our communities,
it’s going to be 85 percent of what we do. And the rest is what we say. Let me put it that way. So what
we do does matter. It communicates our values; it demonstrates our values to our children and to our
colleagues and it creates opportunity for voicing concerns, yes. But what’s said is not just the total of
our effort and so I would say that the organizing is what is critical. And that’s been my question in
watching all the protests across the country. There has been some good organizing behind all this no
doubt. But I’m not sure what kind of organizing is happening in our ranks when we talk about the
church itself.
Dr. Hollinger: Yes, there are a lot of different ways to respond to the practical side. One side of
me looks at this as a seminary administrator, seminary president, and says, “We have to work a lot
harder to make sure that all of you have opportunities to learn from folks from different nationalities,
ethnic groups, and races.” And that is a part of the healing, that is a part of the reconciliation, and
I am deeply committed to that. I would also say that, for those of you who are going into pastoral
ministry, you have got to preach about it. And there are a lot of biblical texts to which you can turn
for guidance. For example, I think of Ephesians chapter 2, which we quote all the time as the great
text about being saved by God’s grace through faith, not of works. But, then, of course, the very next
embarrassing or voyeuristic news related to entertainers, actors, athletes and the wealthy. TMZ has emerged as the leader in
paparazzi business. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TMZ accessed on 18 May 2015.

17

verses say we are created for good works and then go on to deal with one of the first major social
ethical issues that the church faced. It was a racial issue. It was a division between Jewish believers
and Gentile believers who put their worlds together in vastly different ways, who had immensely
different experiences in life growing up, who had all kinds of labels that they used against each other,
and there was a tremendous need for healing between them. Paul addresses that need after this great
passage on justification by faith and hits right on it. And, if you preach on Ephesians 2, you have got
to deal with that text and you have got to apply it to the racial and ethical realities of our world. And
there are many other texts as well.
Question 4: May I ask you a little more? Because one other thing I was listening for was how do
we engage some of the systemic injustices as well. Like preach about it, yes. Walk through pastoral
healing with people, praying for those, interceding for them, hurting with them, right! But what about
the systemic legal things such as the Church getting involved, sitting on councils, shaking hands with
people that make the laws?
Dr. Price: Yes, I think you have a beautiful vision. I think your vision is going to take time and
I think that’s one of the things that hinder us. We always try to rush progress and the reality is that
progress is on the way. We believe in a God who would never leave us nor forsake us, but the reality
is that it takes time. So I would argue that that progress happens in a cellular moment. What I mean
by that is that, if we can make systemic change here, the sphere of influence that leaves here, which is
exponential, will go forth and spread that change, allowing us to be leaders of that change. So, I think
that you know the old adage, you clean up your own home first and then you hit the neighborhood,
right? And I think that’s the approach that we have to take. And knowing what your home looks
like helps you to imagine the amount of time that it takes and the amount of energy that it takes and
so one is prepared for that level of commitment. And then the second task, as Dean Harden talked
about, is choosing what are our goals and how we strategize these goals and then third, back to the
point that I made about the common denominators and “the least of these.” All of us have a variety of
goals and we will go absolutely nowhere if we don’t reach the common denominator of those goals.
We must move from agendas to goal setting, which has to be collective, and do so by unanimous vote.
And, then we’ll come up with those one to two things that we move forward, but such advancement
takes time.
Question 5: I believe God’s work is moving because, from an outsider’s point of view, all the
African people who come to this continent were selected. Before they could land here, there were
challenges, so God prepared his truth for the future, so that so many African-Americans are Christians
now. They received the full Christian eternity in this country. Especially, I believe, God prepared his
truth in the future maybe for Africa. I was a rugby coach in the Taiwan army. I was so envious every
year when I saw the Super Bowl. I was jealous they have so many good sportsmen. In 2008, when
I was in Beijing, I saw so many gold medals, silver medals, won by Black people. And I believe God
chooses his people with his purpose.
Dr. Hollinger: Let me add just one thought to that. God often works beyond our intentions.
Africans were brought to these shores not with their willingness by any stretch of the imagination. It
was an institutional issue. Slavery was an institution. It was an economic institution. It was unjust; it
was horrific in every way. Despite the devil’s work that was done, God showed his power, God is able
to work and bring redemption out of slavery. God was at work even in the evils that we perpetrate
and God is continually at work even in the evils that were perpetrated today to bring good, to bring
people to Himself, to bring justice, to bring healing, to bring cleansing and so forth. That does not
justify the acts that caused the injustice and wrong in the first place. It simply is a great tribute to the
great God that out of the messes we make as human beings, whether it be in the racial ethnic area or
many areas of life, God can overcome those and work despite our sins and despite our wrongs.
Dr. Harden: I would like to add something and maybe this speaks more to the other point. We
do want to be careful when we see injustice being done to a particular people, whether it’s based on
18

class or race, it doesn’t matter, or gender. But when we reach out to these people, what I see Christians
do that sometimes does not help the problem much is that they have a paternalistic approach and
so, whenever we reach out, we have to do it with compassion. We have to put a human face on
things. Even though as I was thinking about this, as Dr. Hollinger was talking about preaching, I
was thinking about other texts as well. It is so important and it’s so strongly communicated in my
opinion in the Bible that we really empower the weak, those we perceive to be the victim, as opposed
to thinking that we’re the solution to help them. That will exacerbate the problem. Dr. Emmett Price
mentioned earlier that, if you look at voting patterns in Ferguson, they were low. They were low for a
reason. That was an outcome, a symptom, of something that was much deeper. So sometimes we need
to ask “why” to get to the right type of solution. Why aren’t they voting? So, if we work to empower
people and show them that their voice does matter, we can give them hope through preaching the
gospel to have a voice. Then we can begin to see changes. So, when we answer the question of how do
we do something about this, there’s so much that can be done through preaching and teaching, but a
lot preaching and teaching centers on hope to believe not only that they matter, but that they can do
something.
Dr. Lints: Let me get the last word in as the moderator. Pastor Brian Loretz, who was here for our
preaching conferences last year, being an African-American pastor of a multi-ethnic very large church
in Memphis, Tennessee, wrote on his blog some thoughts that echo with our conversation today:
If you sense exasperation from [us] African-Americans over yet another news story of
a black man slain at the hands of a white man, this is a wonderful opportunity to grab
some coffee and seek to understand our hearts. I need my white brothers to know how
I felt as I sat in the preaching classes in Bible college and seminary. Not once hearing
examples of great African-American preachers. I need you to know how I felt when I was
forced face down on the hard asphalt of Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles all because
I was 19 and driving my pastor’s Lexus a year after the 1993 Rodney King riots.19
I hope all of you have entered into the story as Mark opened his comments to hear each other’s
hearts on this issue in particular, but on a host of other issues as well, and I pray that our hearts are
prepared to listen. And so with that, let’s thank our panelists. And let me dismiss us with prayer: Oh
God, open our hearts to each other by your Spirit. Move in us; break down the walls that alienate us
from each other and from you. Grant us your peace we pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.
Mark Harden, Ph.D., is Dean, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary/Boston and Professor of Community
Development and Outreach.
Dennis Hollinger, Ph.D., is President and Coleman M. Mockler Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics. He has
been an urban pastor in Washington, DC and is the author of several books, including Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics
in a Complex World and Head Heart and Hands: Bringing Together Christian Thought, Passion and Action.
Richard Lints, Ph.D., is Vice President of Academic Affairs and Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Theology
at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has planted several churches and continues to work in pastoral ministry. His
most recent book is Identity and Idolatry (IVP, 2015).
Emmett G. Price III, Ph.D., is founding pastor of Community of Love Christian Fellowship in Allston, MA. He also
serves as Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology and Music Industry at Northeastern University and teaches a course on the
history and theology of worship at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the executive editor of the Encyclopedia
of African American Music (ABC-CLIO, 2011), editor of The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture: Toward Bridging the
Generational Divide (Scarecrow, 2012), and author of numerous book chapters, journal articles, and blog posts.

19 Fellowship Memphis blog, 15 December 2014.

19

“The collection represents a diversity of viewpoints and styles,
with content ranging from essays to sermons . . .
an important first step in research. Recommended. ”
—L. H. Mamiya, Vassar College, Choice Reviews

Now Available in Paperback
from Scarecrow Press
In this edited volume, Dr. Price opens wide the space
for progressive, intergenerational dialogue by bringing
together the work of leading thinkers, preachers,
scholars, and practitioners from across the country.
The book aims to challenge the Black Church and Hip
Hop Culture to realize their shared responsibilities to
each other and the greater society by exploring the key
issues at play in the debate between these two
significant institutions. Recognizing the rich diversity of
expressions within the Black Community, the essays in
The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture provide timely
commentary, critical analysis, and practical
strategies toward restoration and reconciliation.

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the Black Church and its reaction to and connection with Hip Hop Culture must be
problematized and interrogated. This [volume] delivers on its purpose and mission
of doing just that. “
— Angela Nelson, Bowling Green State University;
editor of “This Is How We Flow”: Rhythm in Black Cultures
Emmett G. Price III is Associate Professor of Music and former department chair of African
American Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. He is author of Hip Hop Culture
(2006) and executive editor of the Encyclopedia of African American Music
(2011).www.emmettprice.com.

The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture by Emmett G. Price III
Paperback, January 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8108-8822-7, $28.00
Published by Scarecrow Press, Inc.
www.scarecrow.com

20

The Pagan Roots of the Charleston Shooting: A Reflection
William David Spencer1
Why a church?
Twenty days ago we were all shocked by that terrible incident where a 21 year old Anglo man
walked into a Bible study at an African-American church, sat down next to the pastor, spent an
hour with these dear Christian folks, and then started arguing with them and shooting them. His
goal was to start a race war.
Of course, if he had really wanted to begin a war between Blacks and Whites, he should have
picked a black militant group to start shooting at. But he was afraid to do so. He explained, “I have
no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight.”2
So this coward chose to attack unarmed, gentle Christian people.
That is why he chose a church.
Theology is a matter of life and death. Thoughts, words, content, messages have power to give
life and that more abundantly, or to deal death and that to the detriment of all. Churches have
always been a favorite target of hate-mongers from the U.S. church burning that left four little
girls dead back in the days when civil rights were finally being enforced right up to today when
terrorists on motorcycles roar up to Christian churches in Pakistan, shoot the Moslem guards, and
then storm in and murder the worshipers, or incite mobs on Ramadan to attack and burn Christian
churches with the worshipers trapped inside in Northern Nigeria.
Hate-mongers always go after the gentle people who don’t fight back. I’ve noted, they rarely
pick on anyone armed to the teeth. They’d rather blow up teenagers at a disco on the West Bank of
Israel or businesspeople on commuter planes hitting the Twin Towers or families supporting runners
in the Boston Marathon. Blind hate targets the innocent.
But those of you who are doing prison ministry or have done it in the past know that it’s not
the usual motive for murder, which is either a crime of passion or a robbery gone awry.
Terrorism is about trying to kill an idea – in this case equality - and replace it with another
idea – inequality where some people are viewed as destined to rule over others. People who get hurt
while zealots are replacing one idea with another are considered collateral damage.
Ideas can be lethal.
This year, 2015, Dr. George Yancey, a professor of sociology at the University of North Texas,
released a book entitled Hostile Environment: Understanding and Responding to Anti-Christian
Bias. He explains:
During my early years as a Christian scholar, I studied racial issues, especially as they
pertain to Christians. Being an African-American Christian, I naturally had an interest
in these issues…I wrote about racism within the church and became very interested in
how Christians can work toward establishing multiracial congregations…I hoped my
work would promote racial reconciliation.3
1 Adapted for this issue of Africanus Journal from a sermon delivered 5 July 2015 at Pilgrim Church, Beverly,
MA, which was extracted and revised for the present author’s students in the opening session of Systematic Theology 1,
“Theology Is a Matter of Life and Death,” 7 July 2015 at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Boston Campus Center
for Urban Ministerial Education.
2 Frances Robles, “Roof’s Photos Appear on Site with Manifesto: A Manifesto and a Fixation on Race,” The New
York Times, 20 June 2015 (online newspaper); accessed Aug. 19, 2015; available from www.nytimes.com/2015/06/21/us/
dylann-storm-roof-photos-website-cgarkestib-church-shooting.html.
3 George Yancey, Hostile Environment: Understanding and Responding to Anti-Christian Bias (Downers Grove, IL:

21

But, as Professor Yancey pursued his work, he began to notice a disturbing parallel prejudice:
“Christianophobia.”4
Professor Yancey writes: “A few years ago I felt a call to change the direction of my research.
There are a variety of issues that led to this shift, but one was my observation of anti-Christian
perspectives. I noticed these attitudes in the reporting of local and national events…I also saw
evidence of anti-Christian attitudes in how some academics reacted to my faith.”5
As a result, as a sociologist, Dr. George Yancey set about studying prejudice against Christianity
and, after recording that research in several books with titles like Dehumanizing Christians and So
Many Christians, So Few Lions, he discovered horrible attitudes like those encountered by a high
school teacher who reported that “he mentioned one day in class that some Christians around the
world were being killed for their faith” and “to his amazement, some students approved of these
murders,” since in the media-conditioned minds of these children “it was time for Christians to face
the same death that Christians had inflicted on others.” “I was struck,” he writes, “by the ahistorical
[that is not historical] nature of this line of thought.”6
Like the anti-Semitism that preceded it and parallels it in our Judeo-Christian heritage, lethal
animosity has been with us since times like Esther’s when Mordecai, the faithful Jew, refused to
bow down to worship a political hack named Haman, and Haman talked King Xerxes into letting
him stir up everybody in the kingdom who was jealous of the Jews’ business success to slaughter
them and grab their bounty.
Prejudice and animosity against true faith in God and therefore prejudice and animosity
against God’s people is, I believe, what motivated the 21 year old youth who shot the Bible study
participants who had welcomed him into their circle in Charleston some three weeks ago.
Why do I say there was a religious dimension to these killings and not just a racial one? Why
do I say Christianaphobia is actually what motivated the selection of the church in Charleston,
along of course with the cowardice of the shooter? Because, on his website, the shooter Dylann
Roof posted under the code name “AryanBlood1488.”
The first two words, “Aryan Blood,” are white supremacist myth words, denying the biblical
view of common parentage, that all humans are descended from the first two humans God created,
as explained in Genesis 1 and 2, and positing instead that races rather than inclinations exist and
that only some human beings are descended from the first man and the first woman that God
created. The white supremacist myth is that God created Anglos out of dust and Blacks out of mud,
and Hispanics and Jews and all others whom supremacists hate for being more successful than
they are are of mixed blood and, therefore, inferior. As supremacists, they posit their own so-called
“Aryan race” is the one fit to rule. Everybody else is inferior and intended to be ruled.
Those who take the Bible view seriously, however, can never be supremacists, because the Bible
teaches in Genesis 1 and 2 that all of us descended from two primal human beings God created,
thereby acknowledging we are all related. Marcus Garvey, the great Jamaican national hero, who
was reared a Wesleyan Methodist, put it well when he pointed out, “Jesus Christ had the blood of
all races in his veins.”7
The idea that Jesus was not Jewish like Jews today is not a Christian idea. Positing separate
blood, separate races rather than simply environmentally adapted “clines” (inclinations with more
IVP, 2015), 11.
4 “An irrational animosity toward or hatred of Christians, or Christianity in general,” MacMillan Dictionary, cited in
George Yancey, Hostile Environment, 14.
5 George Yancey, Hostile Environment, 12.
6 George Yancey, Hostile Environment, 9.
7 Marcus Garvey, “Lesson 1: Intelligence,” lesson guides for the School of African Philosophy, cited in William David
Spencer, Dread Jesus (London: SPCK, 1999) (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2011), 18.

22

or less pigment and thicker facial features), is also sub-Christian. Supposing that everyone is not
made in the image of God is also antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Claiming that God does
not love the world contradicts John 3:16. And imagining that the death of Jesus was only for the
Aryan race stands in direct opposition to 1 John 2:2, which tells us Jesus “himself is the means of
forgiveness for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for all the world’s.”8
So what the Charleston shooter had swallowed was nothing less than an anti-biblical, lethal
mythology, the kind of thinking targeted to appeal to a child from a verbally abusive home,
abandoned by both his father and mother, a child who has flunked ninth grade twice, dropped
out of school, and is unemployed and, having gotten into drugs like suboxone, for which he was
arrested, is probably unemployable. He spends all day looking at websites that will tell him there is
nothing wrong with him – he is a victim of society. This is the profile of shooter Dylann Roof.9
The second part of his posting name tells us the rest of the story: “1488.” This combination
of numbers appears to have been invented and rigorously promoted by a man named David Lane,
whose background in key parts parallels young Roof’s.
David Lane was the son of a physically abusive migrant worker who beat Lane’s older brother
until he was permanently deaf, prostituted Lane’s mother in order to buy alcohol, and, when Lane
was four years old, abandoned the family.
Young David began to idolize Nazi storm troopers, and, though he was placed in the foster
care of a Lutheran minister, he rejected Christianity for paganism. In his own words, Lane decided
Christianity is “problematic to white people because its philosophies are anti-nature and Jewish in
origin.” So he preferred, what he called, “a nature-based European Paganism as the original religion
of whites.”10 Self-identifying as “the founder of a racial and Neo-Pagan religion called Wotanism,”11
he decided to worship the Norse god Odin under the name Wotan, which he also suggested, as
W.O.T.A.N., was an acronym for “Will of the Aryan Nation.” 12 This is the god Dylann Roof seems
to have chosen to worship from reading the writings of David Lane – and not to be confused, I add,
with the gentle Odin played by Anthony Hopkins in Marvel’s Thor and Avengers movies, but a
ferocious and militant war-god.
Attitude follows action.
So, David Lane joined the John Birch Society, then moved to the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan
Nation, and finally formed his own racist group, “The Order,” with which he hijacked 4.1 million
dollars from armored cars, counterfeited money, set off bombs, all in a plan to take over the U.S.
government. Lane helped kill guards in the armored car attacks, killed a member of his own group,
and finally drove the getaway car in the murder of Alan Berg, a Jewish radio host. Caught, for all
this killing and sedition, David Lane was sentenced to 190 years in prison.13
Today, we live in a relativistic age where many around us want us all to accept everyone else’s
beliefs as just as valid as our own, influencing us to conclude, “You have your truth; I have my
truth. What’s true for you is good and part of life. What’s true for me is good and part of life.”
Thus, true Christianity currently appears to be out of vogue because of its claims of exclusivity,
that Jesus’s is the only name by which we are redeemed by God (Acts 4:12). I find it much harder
8 All Bible translations by the present author.
9 Chicago Tribune Wire Reports (Associated Press), “Charleston Suspect’s Life a Troubled Road to Radicalization,”
27 June 2015, [online newspaper], accessed 30 June 2015, www.chicagotribune.com/new/nationworld/ct-dylann-roofprofile-20150627-story.html.
10 Wikipedia, “David Lane (white nationalist),” accessed 30 June 2015, available from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
David_Lane__(white_nationalist).
11 David Lane, “David Lane – Collection of Works,” accessed 19 August 2015, available from https://archive.org/
details/DavidLane-CollectionofWorks.
12 Wikipedia, “David Lane (white nationalist),”
13 Wikipedia, “David Lane (white nationalist).”

23

to maintain the idea that all religious views are equally valid when confronted with one as lethal
as the one under discussion. All views are not good, nor are they all life-enhancing. This does not
mean we Christians kill those who disagree with us – not at all - as we will see from Jesus our
Lord’s example. But it also does not mean that we Christians should allow ourselves to be coerced
into relativizing our life-enhancing faith, but should continue to uphold the example of Jesus
before this confused and wandering world. Further, when did my truth and your truth become the
determiner of what is God’s truth? There is a prior claim on all of us from the One who created us
and determined the definition of what is true and what is false.
As a most sobering antidote to relativism, let us consider David Lane’s “truth” that was picked
up by Dylann Roof and resulted in what he did to those innocent Christians three weeks ago.
Their shared view is easy to find, because, in jail, David Lane wrote assiduously. He
summarized his ideas in what has come to be known in supremacist circles as the “14 words”: “We
must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.’”14 Commensurate with his
ideological clash with our multi-cultural society, Dylann Roof chose the number 14 for the central
component of his web name to indicate his alternate story of reality.
As a supremacist code phrase, “88” was also drawn from David Lane’s worldview. Noticing the
eighth letter of the English alphabet is “H,” Lane and the like-minded seized on that to identify the
phrase “Heil Hitler” with the symbol of two 8s.15 He then wrote 88 precepts for his creed, which
are still posted on the net, beginning with his attack on Christianity and Judaism and any faith not
supportive of his racism.
His precepts # 1 and 2 read: “1. Any religion or teaching which denies the Natural Laws of
the Universe is false. 2. Whatever People’s perception of God, or Gods, or the motive Force of the
Universe might be, they can hardly deny that Nature’s Law are the work of, and therefore the intent
of, that Force.”
He reasoned, “3. God and religion are distinct, separate and often conflicting concepts. Nature
evidences the divine plan, for the natural world is the work of the force or the intelligence men call
God,” and, therefore, “Religion is the creation of mortals.” Thus, his precept #7 contends, “Religion
in its most beneficial form is the symbology of a People and their culture. A multiracial religion
destroys the senses of uniqueness, exclusivity and value necessary to the survival of a race.”
Envisioning a world that is pagan, ruled by might, not by grace, he insists, “18. There exists no
such thing as rights or privileges under the Laws of Nature. The deer being stalked by a hungry lion
has no right to life. However, he may purchase life by obedience to nature-ordained instincts for
vigilance and flight. Similarly, men have no rights to life, liberty or happiness. These circumstances
may be purchased by oneself, by one’s family, by one’s tribe or by one’s ancestors, but they are
nonetheless purchases and are not rights. Furthermore, the value of these purchases can only be
maintained through vigilance and obedience to Natural Law.”
That “natural law” favors exclusivity: “30. The instincts for racial and specie preservation are
ordained by Nature.” Thus, “19. A people who are not convinced of their uniqueness and value will
perish.”
Racism, then, is the only option for obedience to the “natural law” of such a god: “37. ‘racism’
merely means to promote and protect the life of one’s own race. It is, perhaps, the proudest word in
existence. Any man who disobey these instincts is anti-Nature.” Inversely, “32. Miscegenation, that
is race-mixing, is and has always been, the greatest threat to the survival of the Aryan race. 28. The
concept of a multi-racial society violates every Natural Law for specie preservation. 29. The concept
14 David Lane, “88 Precepts,” accessed 30 June 2015, available from www.resist.com/Articles/literature/88PreceptsBy
DavidLane.htm.
15 Alana Dawn, “14/88,” Urban Dictionary, 4 August, 2006, accessed 30 June 2015, available from
nl.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=14%2F88.

24

of ‘equality’ is declared a lie by every evidence of Nature. It is a search for the lowest common
denominator, and its pursuit will destroy every superior race, nation, or culture. In order for a plow
horse to run as fast as a race horse you would first have to cripple the race horse; conversely, in
order for a race horse to pull as much as a plow horse, you would first have to cripple the plow
horse. In either case, the pursuit of equality is the destruction of excellence.”
Therefore, racial war is his god’s natural intention: “26. Nature has put a certain antipathy
between races and species to preserve the individuality and existence of each. Violation
of the territorial imperative necessary to preserve that antipathy leads to either conflict or
mongrelization.”
In such a mindset, an act as Dylann Roof’s is not seen as motivated by hatred: “27. It is not
constructive to hate those of other races, or even those of mixed races. But a separation must
be maintained for the survival of one’s own race.” It was simply a natural act of preservation
ordained by this construction of his god and this god’s “ordained” “natural laws”: “33. Inter-specie
compassion is contrary to the Laws of Nature and is, therefore, suicidal. If a wolf were to intercede
to save a lamb from a lion, he would be killed. Today, we see the White man taxed so heavily that
he cannot afford children. The taxes raised are then used to support the breeding of tens of millions
of non-whites, many of whom then demand the last White females for breeding partners. As you
can see, man is subject to all the Laws of Nature. This has nothing to do with morality, hatred,
good or evil. Nature does not recognize the concepts of good and evil in inter-specie relationships.
If the lion eats the lamb, it is good for the lion and evil for the lamb. If the lamb escapes and the
lion starves, it is good for the lamb and evil for the lion. So, we see the same incident is labeled both
good and evil. This cannot be, for there are no contradictions within Nature’s Laws.”16
All of this reasoning explains with chilling lucidity the amoral mindset that motivated the
Charleston shooting. It is a syncretistic mix of the most lethal aspects of pagan religion and its
devaluing of life and morality in favor of a “survival of the fittest,” non-theistic, social evolutionary
viewpoint.
It also rejects everything about the Jesus who established the Christian faith and its
multicultural Christian church and who promises, “And I, if I be lifted up, I will draw all people to
myself” (John 12:32), presaging the “New Jerusalem” in Revelation as a place where the nations
plural – not just singular - worship God, as we see in Revelation 21:24.
The tragedy is that, as did David Lane, The Chicago Tribune reports, Dylann Roof “attended
church and Bible camp,”17 and so was exposed to the life-giving message of Jesus. But each rejected
the faith.
As Dylann’s new family, after divorce, was falling apart, his father again disappearing for long
periods and his stepmother taking a job and beginning an affair, young Dylann, the ninth grade
drop-out, began spending long empty hours at home, when he was not out “partying with black
friends,” 18 and, eventually, withdrawing from church and friends and everyone else, he invested
all his time in surfing the net. That’s where he discovered David Lane and white supremacy and
became what he became: a violent instrument of prejudice against society, other people, and
Christian human inclusivity.
So, it is no happenstance that Dylann Roof chose a church and not a school, a hospital, a
Walmart, a barbequed ribs restaurant, a library, a laundromat, a baseball park, a golf course, a
real estate agency, a video games arcade or any other place unarmed people gather. His was a
misanthropic, pagan-fueled Christianophobic racial prejudice that expressed itself by choosing a
16 David Lane, “88 Precepts.”
17 Chicago Tribune wire reports (Associated Press), “Charleston suspect’s life a troubled road to radicalization.”
18 Chicago Tribune wire reports (Associated Press), “Charleston suspect’s life a troubled road to radicalization.”

25

church to wreak his havoc.
How on earth can any of us respond in a way that pleases God as we look across the world
globally and the United States particularly today and recognize this horrible act as just one more
of so many examples of lethal persecution against valued and precious members in good standing
of our population and of our faith, which has undergirded so much of what has made our nation
ideologically strong?
As in each case, we deal with this assault and every such issue by looking at the attributes of
God (the true God, that is, who was at work in Jesus Christ, God-Among-Us) to see how Jesus’s
understanding dictated his actions, as we discover how Jesus our Lord responded to the first cases
of Christianophobia.
When, for example, Jesus was singled out and opposed by an angry pack of Sadducees and Pharisees,
the group that ultimately would demand his life, as recorded in Matthew 22:34-40 (Mark 12:28-34),
did he respond according to Lane and Roof’s picture of God in action: dip into the common purse and
equip Simon the Zealot to go out and buy some 45 caliber swords to arm his gang to the teeth? Did he call
down legions of angels to sizzle his attackers on the spot? Did he simply stretch out his hand and turn the
whole mob of Sadducees and Pharisees into lepers? Not at all. He responded instead with compassion by
correcting their errors, firmly but gently, and even identified and affirmed one of his questioners who was
stumbling onto the truth of loving oneself and one’s neighbors. How Jesus handled his opponents is the
way God wants us to handle ours.
The opponent Jesus singles out calls him “Teacher,” so Jesus responds accordingly. He teaches
him. That’s what each of you do or will be called on to do in your church. By virtue of your
seminary education, you will be the person to go to for wisdom, so make all these studies count,
because you will be called, just as I will be called, to account by the true loving but just God for
what we teach.
What did Jesus teach? Without any preliminaries, he replied, literally: “Love the Lord your God
in all your heart and in all your inner life (your soul) and in all your intelligence. This is the greatest
and first commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor (the one who is near) as
yourself. In these two commandments the whole of the law and the prophets depends.”
Interesting answer, isn’t it?
Last Monday, I was talking with a friend of mine who is a professor at a college here in
Boston and told him I was preaching on Sunday and teaching my class on Tuesday on the greatest
commandment and he replied immediately, “Thou shalt not kill! That’s the one we need today!” He
was thinking about these Charleston murders.
But I explained Jesus’s answer is much more primal: attitude precedes action.
If we put Jesus’s command into practice and authentically love God and those who share this
planet with us, then we will not kill – in fact, we will not violate any of the Ten Commandments.
Instead, we will fulfill all of them by loving the neighbor who is near us and the God who is nearest
to us all.

26

If we love God, we will worship God alone and put nothing else before God. Everything we
value in life we will recognize as gifts from God: the great Giver of life and supplier of its
necessities. And we will look beyond the gifts and honor God.

And we won’t take the Lord’s name in vain. We will remember that Exodus 20, where the Ten
Commandments are listed, tells us, “The Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his
name.” So, out of gratitude, we will not want to be found guilty before the God we love.

And we will respect and keep holy one day a week to worship God, just because we respect
God.

And we won’t despise our mother or father because they are or were near to us, even if they
have since wronged us. We will still love them, because that pleases God, our heavenly Parent.

We won’t murder others of any clines.

We won’t cheat on our spouses, or abuse or abandon our family, as some of David Lane and
Dylann Roof’s parents did. We will not do that because we will truly care for them.

We won’t steal from our neighbors, or slander their names, which is stealing their reputations,
or envy what they have.

We won’t do any of these things, because attitude precedes action. The hands will do ultimately
what the heart believes. If the heart is filled with hate, eventually it will command the hands to hurt
someone else. If the heart is filled with love, ultimately it will do things to help someone else.
And, notice something: the sad end of the story for Dylann Roof is similar to the end of
the story of the Boston Marathon bombers. Just like the radical area on the fringes of Russia
disassociated itself from the Marathon bombers, so did the website Dylann Roof credits with first
radicalizing him now withdraw from him. According to the Chicago Tribune,“Kyle Rogers, a
member of the Council of Conservative Citizens who lives in Summerville, South Carolina, denied
Roof had any direct dealings with the group.”19 In fact, according to the New York Times, “A
message on its website says the group is ‘deeply saddened by the Charleston killing spree.’”20
And just like the equally misguided and lethal Charles Manson before him, Dylann Roof
discovered the outcry of support and great race war he also expected to precipitate did not
materialize. Like those deluded by terrorist leaders to strap bombs onto themselves and blow up
innocent teenagers in West Bank discotheques, Dylann Roof was ultimately left entirely alone
to destroy himself along with his victims, while those racists who had brainwashed him, like the
terrorist think tank leaders, live on and on to infect, radicalize, and then use up others as they
themselves survive. Hate is a lonely occupation with no payoff but misery at the end for all duped
to become its perpetrators.
The result for Jesus’s way, however, was very different. Jesus won his opponent over. The
lawyer is impressed. He answers enthusiastically in Mark 12:32-33, literally: “Right! Teacher, truly
you have said that one is not unlike the other. And to love [God] out of all the heart and out of all
the intelligence and out of all the strength [is better] than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Jesus’s words are confirmed. So, Jesus in turn affirms his former opponent, seeing that “wisely
he answered.” Jesus encourages him, “Not far off are you from the kingdom of God.”
Jesus’s strategy of love was so effective, we are told, that “no one any longer dared to question
him.”
Now, this does not guarantee we will always walk away from every encounter unscathed if we
use the soft answer that turns away anger, the answer of love. Ultimately, Jesus did not walk away
safely from his mounting opposition. Eventually, he did triumph over death, but that was only
won through great sacrifice and suffering. If we follow Jesus’s example and respond to opposition
with love, we too may experience suffering. Models map out destinies. But it does mean we will
have done our part in standing up for God’s values, not contributing to violence and hatred in the
world, and ultimately winning the respect of those who seek peace and the approval of the One
who created us in love to love. And that is what Jesus meant by not being “far off from God’s
Kingdom,” the place to which all of us should be journeying.
So, in his model, Jesus took time to perceive his challenger, then he shared a scriptural answer
clearly and gently, and, in all his response to this opponent, he sought to please God in his answer.
19 Chicago Tribune wire reports (Associated Press), “Charleston suspect’s life a troubled road to radicalization.”
20 Frances Robles, “Dylann Roof Photos and a Manifesto Are Posted on Website.”

27

Now, that is the perfect prescription for doing theology and living our lives in life-affirming
ways.
William David Spencer, a founding editor of Africanus Journal, is Gordon-Conwell’s Distinguished Adjunct Professor
of Theology and the Arts, teaching at its Boston campus, Center for Urban Ministerial Education, and the author or editor
of 13 books, including the new mystery novel, Name in the Papers, winner of the Southern California Motion Picture
Council Golden Halo Award for “Outstanding Contribution to Literature.” Two of his books have been hailed by critics
as the definitive volumes in their field, his study of mysteries that feature fictional clergy solving crimes, Mysterium and
Mystery: The Clerical Crime Novel, and his co-edited volume Chanting Down Babylon: The Rastafari Reader, a multiauthor study of the Afro-Caribbean identity and liberation movement. His forthcoming book is Redeeming the Screens, a
co-edited work on the revival currently occurring in the entertainment industry.

From the heart of the city,
a breath of fresh air

An urban adventure novel from
William David Spencer,

Editor of Priscilla Papers
Meet a cast of characters from
ex-cons to urban pastors—and
even an alligator—whose lives are
woven together in a redemptive
story pervaded by God’s grace.
This engaging read will leave
you feeling refreshed and
encouraged.
“With great creativity, it transports
the reader into a thoroughly
engaging adventure that is vivid,
brimming with adventure, and
difficult to put down.”
— Jen Creamer, Adjunct Instructor
in New Testament, Gordon-Conwell
Theological Seminary

Winner of the 2013 Golden Halo Award from the
Southern California Motion Picture Council
$YDLODEOHLQVRIWFRYHUDQGHERRNƒ.LQGOHHGLWLRQRQO\ƒ,6%1
6 • Priscilla Papers ◆ Vol. 28, No. 3 ◆ Summer 2014

28

Toppling the Silent Idol:
Assessing Greed as Part of an Idolatrous Meta-System and Promoting
Holiness as an Antidote to Greed 1
Aída Besançon Spencer
Introduction
In 1995 hundreds of religious and secular institutions in the United States experienced the
largest financial scam of philanthropic organizations at that point in history. Between 200-500
million dollars were stolen from over 300 nonprofit institutions and over 150 individuals. It was
as if holy communion were stolen for a drunken joy ride, or a beggar’s bread grabbed to throw
into a rich person’s duck pond. Organizations which were to be a tree of life to needy people were
used instead to administer hemlock and to bring death instead. When the list of institutions who
had been deceived was read out, it sounded like a reading of “Who’s Who in American Evangelical
Religion.” As one accountant declared: “It’s amazing. Anybody who’s significant in the evangelical
community has been involved in this thing.”2
The Foundation for New Era Philanthropy told these social groups that anonymous donors
were ready to double their money if they set it aside for six months. The founder and chief
executive offered at first advice on philanthropy (1982-), then management of money training
(1989-), then the New Era offered matching grants to those groups that allowed uninterested third
parties to hold their money for six months (1992-), and finally the new Era itself held the money
(1993-). The chief executive, John Bennett, who had been an alcohol-abuse counselor, became
friends with many significant people. A man who had not attended his home church services for
about a year, he had been described as trustworthy, of sterling character, a visionary with infectious
optimism, thoroughly honest, committed to Christ and Christian values, and (probably most
significant) dressed like an average businessperson working for IBM. But, due to the persistence
of people like business teacher Albert Meyer, it was discovered that New Era had no anonymous
donors and was simply taking the money from one institution and giving it to another.
I attended one of those institutions. We were utterly shocked. How could this wonderful
opportunity for fundraising turn out so sour? We knew or recognized many of the people and
institutions who had been deceived. Largely, all blame goes to the person doing the deceiving.
However, the greed or desire to have more does have several levels, or, as the proverb says, you
can’t con an honest person. Even though Bennett earned at least over $100,000 in 1990, that was
not enough. He wanted more. A 200,000 house was not enough; he needed a 600,000 home. He
set aside for himself six or more million dollars. The giving institutions also wanted more and fast,
even if the money was for altruistic purposes. When in 1993, Tony Carnes, vice president of the
International Research Institute on Values Changes, tried to discourage colleges from participating
in New Era’s program, he discovered the schools: “could just taste the money. I’ve never seen
anything like it. The weakness around the mouth, the desire in the eyes. I’ve always heard the
expression, ‘You can see greed written,’ but I’ve seen the reality.”3
Why had these Christian institutions been so eager to participate? The fault is not only their
own. In earlier years, when prominent “Christian” speakers had been discovered to be involved
in dishonorable sexual and economic pursuits, many Christians became hesitant to give. So, the
ethical decisions of some church people had ramifications for many other church people. And this
1 This article was made possible by a Kern Grant Award 2014-15.
2 “Incredible Offer: Charity Helps Colleges and Others Double Their Money Quickly, but Questions Loom,” Wall
Street Journal: 15 May 1995: A8, col. 1.
3 Steve Stecklow, “False Profit: How New Era’s Boss Led Rich and Gullible Into a Web of Deceit,” Wall Street Journal,
19 May 1995: A8, col. 3.

29

time, too, the individual and corporate greed of these larger organizations went on to affect many
individuals. Bennett’s own staff was in tears when they heard the truth. At our own school about
thirty people, some near retirement, lost their jobs to help the school through this financial disaster.
And, consequently, an additional small group of people decided to leave, not wishing to stay in an
institution that would lay off so many steady workers. Our able faculty secretary left. A few of the
staff were so shaken by the termination, they became mentally distressed, and others blamed God
for allowing the event to happen. More women were laid off than men. A temporary moratorium
was put on adjunct professors teaching in the summer program. Expected grants from donors were
no longer available for building improvement. Our city program almost closed.
About five years later, our educational institution had returned to financial health. Many of the
receiving institutions also voluntarily returned funds to the other institutions. Nevertheless, greed is
not a private affair, just as sexual immorality is not a private affair. Even though Mr. Bennett may
have been able to counsel people who could not say “no” to substance abuse, he himself could not
say “no” to material abuse. Greed is more than an individual matter. It can affect many areas of
life--financial, material, sexual, and even verbal. Its ramifications are individual, group, corporate,
national, and international.
In 2014, corporate greed again reached the front news. Massachusetts State Senators Joan
Lovely and Barry Finegold urged the Market Basket Supermarket board members to listen to their
employees’ complaint about the forcible takeover of the CEO Arthur T. Demoulas by his cousin
Arthur S. Demoulas. The Senators wrote, “The current actions of the board and officers is one
motivated by corporate greed.” The employees were arguing that Arthur T. Demoulas had instituted
benefits to reward both employees and customers for their loyalty, providing benefits for employees
and lower prices for customers. According to the North Shore Sunday, the insurgent Arthur S.
Demoulas planned to increase food prices and lessen employee benefits,4 in contrast to Arthur T.
Demoulas’s policy to focus on worker and consumer, with incentives based on gratitude to both.
Corporate greed has also precipitated one of the worse peacetime disasters in South Korea-the
sinking of the Ferry Sewol in April 2014, which killed 304 passengers, the majority of them high
school students. In order to increase his profits, owner Yoo Byung-eun added cabins and a marble
art gallery to sell his over-priced photos to those on the ferry’s upper decks, making the ship topheavy. His family also had the ballast water drained, which had been needed to balance the weight.
They did this so that inspectors could not tell the ferry was overloaded. Meanwhile, the Yoo family
members spent millions of dollars on themselves.5
Individual greed can affect corporate greed. Greed has momentous ramifications toward others’
quality of life and even their very lives themselves.
Greed is part of a larger interconnected idolatrous meta-system. The Bible connects idolatry,
sexual immorality, impurity, and economic abuse under a larger principle of the idol of greed. This
is not the only idol the Bible discusses, but this idol of wanting an unrestrained “more” permeates
today’s culture.6 Especially in Ephesians 5:3-5 and Colossians 3:5, greed, sexual immorality, and
4 Anna Burgess, “Uniting for ‘Artie T’: North Shore employees join the Market Basket uprising,” North Shore Sunday
40:35, 25 July 2014: A1-2.
5 Choe Sang-Hun, Martin Fackler, Alison Leigh Cowan, and Scott Sayare, “In Ferry Deaths, a South Korean Tycoon’s
Downfall,” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/world/asia/in-ferry-deaths-a-south-korean-tycoonsdownfall.html?-r=0, 26 July 2014. Also see “Greed Before the Fall,” New York Times, 27 July 2014: A1.
6 For example, after an extensive survey, Fast Company summarized: “The more people have, the more they want….
When asked how much extra income would free them from money concerns, high-income respondents (those earning
$100,000 or more) were five times as likely to pick a high figure ($90,000 plus) as their lower-income counterparts (those
earning less than $40,000)…Ultimately, poorer people—and, in a number of cases, women—are most inclined to accept
limits on their ability to have stuff: 70% of those who make $40,000 a year or less, and 67% of female respondents, agreed
that learning to live on less money is an important factor in achieving balance in their lives.” (“How Much Is Enough?,” Fast
Company 26 (July/August 1999): 114.

30

impurity are part of an interconnected system of “walking in darkness,” symptomatic of a pagan
life-style that expresses itself in lack of appreciation and satisfaction with God and God’s gifts
related to possessions, relationships, and purity. In effect, the God without form is replaced by
gods with form.7 Economic greed and sexual greed are sins concerning matter or flesh. In the tenth
and first commandments, something or someone of material form replaces the possession of the
invisible true God (Exod 20:2-6, 17). However, the Bible also offers resources for the way out. How
can we topple this idol of greed? This fallen meta-system contrasts with another interconnected
system of “walking in light,” symptomatic of a godly life-style that expresses appreciation and
satisfaction with God and God’s gifts, resulting in generosity, sexual self-control, and holiness.
Thus, we can topple the idol of greed by reaching out for God’s greater gifts of thankfulness, God’s
personal presence, holiness, and love. These intertwined freeing gifts can help us become more holy
in an age of greed.
Historical Context of New Testament Letters
When Paul writes the Letters to the Ephesians and Colossians, he is in Rome. Paul is most likely
under house arrest in Rome, A.D. 60-61, where he could witness many types of pagan abuses.8 He
is living probably in a multi-level tenement apartment house. Each day a new praetorian guard
comes and is handcuffed to his wrist for the day. Paul probably could have been released because
the accusations against him were false, but he had appealed his case to Rome, as was his right as a
Roman citizen.
Nero is emperor at the time. He had not yet begun the fire in Rome (A.D. 64) which
precipitated the persecution of Christians as scapegoats. He was boasting that his reign was one of
mildness and clemency. Nevertheless, the praetorian guards who visited Paul may have been telling
him the truth about Nero and catching Paul up on Roman politics.
After describing Nero’s initial generosity in reducing taxes and instituting festivals, the Roman
historian Suetonius describes the emperor as “insolent, lustful, extravagant, greedy,” and cruel.
For example, at night Nero would sneak out to make a round of the taverns. As a game, he would
“attack men on their way home from dinner, stab them if they offered resistance, and then drop
their bodies down the sewers. He would also break into shops, afterwards opening a miniature
market at a Palace with the stolen goods, …squandering the proceeds.”
Gradually Nero’s vices gained the upper hand… His feasts now lasted from noon till
midnight…Whenever he floated down the Tiber to Ostia,…he had a row of temporary
brothels erected along the shore…Not satisfied with seducing free-born boys and
married women, Nero raped the Vestal Virgin Rubria… Having tried to turn the boy
Sporus into a girl by castration, he went through a wedding ceremony with him…
He…took him…through the street…kissing him amorously…The passion he felt for
his mother, Agrippina, was notorious… Nero practiced every kind of obscenity, and
at last…dressed in the skins of wild animals…attacked the private parts of men and
women who stood bound to stakes.
Finally, bankrupt, such that he could not even pay the soldiers or veterans, he “resorted to robbery
and blackmail…His invariable formula, when he appointed a magistrate was: ‘You know my needs,
eh? You and I must see that nobody is left with anything.” He ended up killing every member of his
family and countless others.9 Nero became such an example of degradation that even graffiti on city
7 For example, John summarizes the love of the “world” as “the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the
boasting of the body.” These characteristics also appear to be physical types of sins, although pride (alazoneia) could be
simply mental (1 John 2:15-16).
8 Acts 28:16; Eph 3:1, 13; 4:1; 6:20; Col 1:24; 4:3, 18. Tychicus is with Paul at the writing of both letters (Eph 6;22;
Col 4:7).
9 Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars. Nero. 26-29, 32, 35. The next contender for the throne, Otho, according to the

31

walls would disparage him, for example:
Count the numerical values
Of the letters in Nero’s name,
And in “murdered his own mother”:
You will find their sum is the same (Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Nero 39).
Today, “Gentile” acts of darkness continue or even increase in countries which are reaching
back to pagan ideologies. The Bible describes one interconnected system of “darkness” and its
antidotal interconnected system of “lightness.” Paul observes that “greediness is idolatry.” Indeed,
what appears at first glance to be Paul’s confusion of categories is instead a profound insight into
the interrelatedness of lack of satisfaction with God and God’s gifts: lack of satisfaction with God’s
provisions of relationships, purity, and possessions.
Literary Context of Ephesians 5:5
In Ephesians, Paul, a prisoner, wants the fellow heirs at Ephesus to lead a life worthy of God’s
gracious calling. He elaborates on how God’s grace provides an inheritance (1:3-2:22), how he is a
prisoner for Gentiles, now co-heirs (3:1-21), and how, as a result, he urges his readers to live a life
worthy of their calling (4:1-6:20). In the last section of the letter (4:1-6:20), Paul exhorts them to be
imitators of God and live in love (5:1-6:9). Included in this unit is an exhortation of what not to do:
But let not be named among you sexual immorality and every impurity or greediness,
as is seemly for saints, and obscenity and foolish talk or sarcasm which is not fitting,
but rather let thanksgiving [be named]. For this you know full well that every sexually
immoral person or impure person or greedy person (which is an idolater) does not
have an inheritance in Messiah God’s reign10 (Eph 5:3-5).
In Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians he describes three types of people who do not have an
inheritance in God’s kingdom: “every sexually immoral person (pornos) or impure person
(akathartos) or greedy person (pleonektēs)” (5:5). The seriousness of greed is described in an
adjectival clause: “which is an idolater.” How many times in the church do we talk about sexual
immorality and impurity, but say little about greed? Therefore, “greed” may be called “the silent
idol.” But, according to the Apostle Paul, all three actions affect one’s present and ultimate
commendation by God. The “which” refers back to “greedy person,” but it is general enough to
allude to the other two actions as well (sexual immorality, impurity).
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “greed” (pleonexia) is again grouped with “sexual immorality”
(porneia), and “impurity” (akatharsia) (3:5), as “earthly” actions one should “put to death,” which are not
in Christ’s heavenly presence (3:1-2). In the Colossians letter only greediness is singled out as “idolatry.”
Along with “passionate desire” (pathos) and “lustful desire” (epithumia), all characteristics of the “old
self” (v. 9), greed will be punished by God (v. 6). Again, being greedy or acting to get what is not one’s
own is a very serious action before God.
What is “greed” and what is “idolatry”?
Roman historian Tacitus, mimicked Nero’s vices: “dissipation such as would have imposed a strain even upon an emperor’s
pocket.” Otho was encouraged into politics by his household who “dangled alluring prospects before his greedy gaze: a court
and life of pleasure like Nero’s, liaisons, marriages and all the gratifications of tyranny.” Otho fanned discontent among his
troops, “doled out bribes and promises on a lavish scale.” His troops killed his opponents, “hacked at [the] legs and arms,”
displayed in procession the heads with “blood dripping from their hands.” When Otho killed himself, the troops of Vitellus,
his successor, also “embarked on a career of spoilation, violence and licentiousness” throughout Italy. Tacitus, The Histories
II, 21-25, 44-45, 56.
10 I have translated basileia tou Christou kai theou as a hendiadys, an expression of an idea by two nouns connected by
“and” instead of a noun and its qualifier (“Messiah God’s reign” or “God’s Messiah reign”). This translation is not necessary
for the argument.

32

Greed Is More
“Greed” (pleonekteõ, pleonektēs, pleonexia) in Greek has its root in the comparative adjective
“more” (pleion). To have “more” in the New Testament can have positive or negative connotations.
For instance, Paul can win “more” (pleion) people by being “a slave” to all (1 Cor 9:19). The poor
widow contributed “more” (a larger percentage) than the others (Mark 12:43). The Hebrews were
to cook for Friday and leave “more” or “left over” for the Sabbath rest (Exod 16:23). In contrast,
God commands that money not be lent “at interest taken in advance, or ‘food’ provided” “at a
profit” (pleonasmos, Lev 25:37, LXX). John the Baptist warns tax collectors not to collect “more
than the amount prescribed” (pleion, Luke 3:13). From this literal root idea of observable increase
in numbers develops a more figurative idea of more in behavioral characteristics. For example,
Jesus tells his listeners that they need “more” righteousness than the scribes and Pharisees have
(pleion, Matt 5:20).
The adjective pleion diverges into two verbs: pleonazō, “to be more,” and pleonekteõ, “to have
(echõ) more” or pleon ktaomai “to acquire more.”11 Thus, the cognates pleonekteō, pleonektēs,
pleonexia are intensified, therefore, more negative forms. In the New Testament, pleonazō (“to have
more”) generally is positive. God’s “grace” or victorious gifts should “increase” to more and more
people (2 Cor 4:15). Paul wants the Thessalonians to “increase” in love for one another (1 Thess
3:12; 2 Thess 1:3). Peter wants his listeners to “increase” in goodness, knowledge, self-control,
endurance, godliness, affection, and love (2 Pet 1:5-8).
But, there is “more” and there is “more”! A greedy person (pleonektēs) grasps more than his
due. Pleonekteõ has negative connotations because the person is procuring “more” by taking it
away from someone else, by wronging or treating unjustly that other person. In this sense, Satan
is the epitome of “greedy.” Satan is ready to “grasp” people, by taking them away from following
God. When we do not forgive one another, we allow Satan that opportunity (2 Cor 2:10-11). In
the New Testament, the negative use of “greed” is often economic. People procure more than their
due by stealing from others by deceit. The Corinthians even accused Paul of financially exploiting
them. That is why Paul refused to accept any money from them for his or his coworkers’ personal
livelihood (2 Cor 12:13-18). Instead, he “spent” himself for them in love (dapanaõ, 12:15). When
Paul arranged for a financial contribution to the poor church in Jerusalem, he arranged matters
ahead of time so that the gift would not appear to be deceptively acquired or excessive (pleonexia,
9:5) The key financial principle Paul sets before the Corinthians is one of economic equality.
Christians should share their salaries among each other so that at the end all would have the same:
“The one who had much did not have more than his/her due” (plenazō 8:15). In this way, Christians
would observably contrast with the greedy person “who augments wealth by exorbitant interest”
(Prov 28:8).
Paul also uses pleonekteõ when referring to sexual injustice. In the context of discussing sexual
immorality (porneia), desire (epithumia) versus self-control and holiness, Paul tells his readers that
God’s will is that “no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister” (pleonekteõ, 1 Thess 4:3-7). Thus,
sexually acquiring by deception (or seducing) someone to whom we are not married is a way to
take what is not one’s due, to be sinfully greedy. The opposite behavior is loving and holy (4:7, 9).
When Paul first wrote to the Thessalonians, he described his leadership style as not greedy, impure,
or deceitful. The contrast to this kind of greed is humble tender love: Paul depicted his team as
“children in your midst, as if a nursing mother might take care of her own children” (1 Thess
2:3-7). Paul and his coworkers gave of their very selves in service (v. 8). They acted oppositely
to the false prophets who “in greed, with deceptive words, exploit” (or make profit of) believers
11 Henry Liddell and Robert Scott note that pleon ektesetai is the correct reading in Plato, Laches 192e. Ektesetai
comes from ktaomai, “to acquire.” Whether they are suggesting that pleonekteō comes from pleon ktaomai is not clear.
However, the intensified and negative meaning for pleonekteō as opposed to pleonazõ would be well described by two
different verb roots. A Greek-English Lexicon (9th ed.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1940), 1415-16.

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(2 Pet 2:3). Sexual immorality and greed are combined in these false prophets, who as Balaam
did, prophesied for a fee (2 Pet 2:14-15; Num 22:7). One of the eventual results of not honoring
and thanking God is greed (Rom 1:23, 29), which, along with sexual immorality (porneia), theft,
murder, adultery, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly, according to Jesus,
come from within to defile a person (Mark 7:20-23).
Thus “greed” is used in the New Testament to describe both financial and sexual injustice.12
How, then, does Paul use “greed” in Ephesians? The larger context has more to do with sexual
injustice and, even more, is a symptom of a pagan life-style, a life not dedicated to maturing in
Christ’s image (Eph 4:13-16, 18). To “live as Gentiles” is, first, to have one’s understanding “become
darkened,” one becomes a stranger to God’s way of life because of an ignorant and hardened heart
(4:17-18), then one’s mind becomes “idle” or “empty.” In other words, when our purpose in life is
not worthwhile, our mind becomes unclear. As a consequence, people who have gone this far lose
their sensitivity to good and can then go on to hand themselves over to “vice” or sensuality, lost
in an “excess” (pleonexia) of impure actions (4:19). Living like a pagan results in acquiring “more
than one’s due” of unclean vice.
Paul returns to the topic of “greed” again in Ephesians 5. In the larger pericope, 5:3-5 is set
in contrast with the exhortation for the readers to become imitators of God and to walk in love
“as also Christ loved us and gave himself in behalf of us, as an offering and sacrifice to God for a
sweet fragrance” (5:1-2). This whole sentence describes the opposite of idolatry. Humans should
live treating God as the One to whom one makes offerings, in this case, giving one’s own life
as an offering. Paul repeats a similar listing of negative characteristics as he did before (4:19).
The three types of persons in verse 5 (“every sexually immoral [pornos] or impure [akathartos]
or greedy person [pleonektēs]”) repeat the first three character traits in verse 3 which are not to
be named among Christians: “sexually immortality (porneia) and every impurity (akatharsia) or
greediness (pleonexia)” (v.3). Clearly, these actions are not proper for followers of God, since they
are descriptive of those who do not follow God (4:17-19)! What is the significance of pornos and
akathartos?
Pornos, Porneia
“Sexual immorality” (porneia) is a broad term referring to any sexual activities done in a
way not pleasing to God. It includes sexual immorality done outside of marriage (“adultery” or
“incest”) or when not married (“fornication”) or even mental sexual sin as use of pornography,
looking at a woman with lust. For example, Jesus said, “Anyone who divorces his wife, except
on the matter of sexual immorality (porneia), causes her to commit adultery” (Matt 5:32). Paul
describes incest, sexual intimacy with a prostitute, and sexual intimacy before marriage all as
porneia (1 Cor 5:1; 6:15-7:2). “Pornography” (which comes from porneia) is also sexual immorality
since Jesus argues that looking at a woman with lust is already “adultery” in the heart (Matt 5:2728). Francis Foulkes summarizes: porneia “involves all that works against the life-long union of one
12 Many commentators agree. For example, Richard R. Melick, Jr. writes pleonexia “is the longing for something that
belongs to someone else or placing supreme value on something not (yet) possessed… it is, in kind, the same as sexual sin. It
represents a strong movement of desire toward something out of God’s will at the time.” Philippians, Colossians, Philemon,
The New American Commentary 32 (Nashville: Broadman, 1991), 290. Also see C.F.D. Moule, The Epistles of Paul the
Apostle to the Colossians and to Philemon, Cambridge Greek New Testament Commentary (Cambridge: University, 1968),
116; James D.G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, New International Greek Testament Commentary
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 215-16. (“In Plato, Symposium 182 D, [pleonexia] is used of sexual greed and sums up
what is primarily a list of sexual sins.”) Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistle to
the Ephesians and the Epistle to Philemon, trans. Maurice J. Evans and William P. Dickson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1884),
268 (“Doubtless porneia and akatharsia are also subtle idolatry”); Margaret Y. MacDonald, Colossians and Ephesians,
Sacra Pagina Series 17 (Collegeville: Michael Glazier, 2000), 135; Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, Pillar
New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 363. Brian S. Rosner, in contrast, concludes that pleonexia/
pleonektēs refer only to avarice, not sexual greed in Col 3:5 and Eph 5:5 (Greed as Idolatry: The Origin and Meaning of a
Pauline Metaphor [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007], 104-5).

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man and one woman within the sanctity of the marriage bond.”13
Akatharsia, Akathartos
“Impurity” (akatharsia) is literally “dirt.” For the Hebrews, akatharsia would include
ritually unacceptable and unhealthy physical discharges: when anyone has a discharge from
his flesh, his discharge makes him ceremonially unclean (Lev 15:3). Such a discharge will
contaminate everyone and everything touched. Therefore, the Old Testament law required
a physical discharge of blood or pus to have stopped for at least a week before the unclean
person could even consider worshiping God at the tabernacle (vv. 13-15). Jesus describes the
bones of the dead as “impure,” using metaphoric language to depict hypocrisy and lawlessness
disguised as righteousness (Matt 23:27-28). Thus, “impurity” became a general term in the
New Testament to describe sins which were displeasing to God and contaminated other people.
Paul alludes to the Old Testament when he addressed the Corinthians who are attracted by
false teachers: “touch nothing unclean,” then God “will welcome you” (2 Cor 6:17; Isa 52:11;
Ezek 20:34). Paul also groups akatharsia with sexual immorality (porneia) and licentiousness
(unbridled lust, aselgeia) in 2 Corinthians 12:21. Demons were frequently called “unclean
spirits” in the New Testament (e.g., Matt 10:1), messengers from Satan, in contrast to holy and
pure messengers from God. The opposite of “impurity” is righteousness and holiness (Rom
6:19; 1 Thess. 4:7). Thus, akatharsia, like foul sores, are sins which contaminate the sinner and
his or her environment, such as sins of a sexual, lawless, heretical, demonic nature. These are
antithetical to the very nature of God.
Aischrotēs, Mōrologia, Eutrapelia
“Idolatry” at least refers back to pleonektēs, “a greedy person.” A good case can be made
for it to refer also to pornos (“a sexually immoral person”) and akathartos (“an impure
person”).14 All three types of people have vices which are antithetical to the very nature
13 Francis Foulkes, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1963), 141. Ernest Best agrees. Porneia includes fornication, adultery, homosexuality, prostitution, incest,
in effect, all sexual misconduct. He refers to Lev 18:6-30 (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Ephesians, ICC
[Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998], 475-76. Harold W. Hoehner concurs: porneia in the classical literature refers to
prostitution or to homosexuality. Essentially, it refers to “aberrant sexual conduct” or “sexual immorality” (Ephesians:
An Exegetical Commentary [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002], 652).
14 Tucked in the last sentence is the adjectival clause “which is an idolater” (v.5). “Which” appears to modify
“greedy person” (pleonektēs) because “is” is singular, the relative pronoun “which” is singular, and the clause follows
the noun “greedy person.” However, “which” (the relative pronoun ho) is neuter, not masculine to match pleonektēs.
Codexes A, D and 0278 read hos, however, the more ancient good quality texts read ho (p46, ‫א‬, B). Thus, the relative
pronoun ho may have assimilated to agree with the antecedent predicate substantive touto (“this”) or ho may not agree
with an antecedent, but it gathers the general notion of “thing” (“which thing is being an idolater”) A.T. Robertson,
A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman, 1934), 712-13,
cites Col 3:14 as an example where the relative agrees neither with the antecedent nor with a predicate substantive,
but gathers the general notion of ‘thing’: “ho comes in between a feminine and a masculine, tēn agapēn, ho estin
sundesmos,” if the latter, ho, even though neuter, would refer back to “greedy person.” However, the agreement in
number, gender, and case would certainly lend rationale to ho agreeing with the antecedent “this.” In that case, “which
is idolatry” would refer to all three types of persons: sexually immoral, impure, and greedy. In years past the reading
hos was preferred and commentators thought “which is idolatry” referred to all the preceding nouns, so that the
fornicator, unclean person, and covetous person were all alike idolaters. Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle
to the Ephesians (New York: Carter, 1856), 285. Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer cites Gotthilf Zachariae (1771),
Koppe, Meier (1834), Harless, Fritzsche in Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistle to the Ephesians and the
Epistle to Philemon, trans. Maurice J. Evans and William Dickson (4th ed., Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1884), 268.
T.K. Abbott also cites Harless (1858) and Karl Braune (1867) as stating the relative hos refers to all three antecedents,
Ephesians, 150. Stanley E. Porter agrees that “any practice by someone of sexual immorality, impurity or greed is a
form of idolatry, i.e. a placing of this practice before service to the kingdom of Christ and God,” “ίστε γινώσκοντες in
Ephesians 5, 5: Does Chiasm Solve a Problem?” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 82:3/4 (1991): 275;
Rudolf Schnackenburg: “Perhaps the author applies the Relative Pronoun to all three expressions connected to πᾶς.”
Ephesians: A Commentary, trans. Helen Heron (Edinburgh, T&T Clark, 1991), 219.
In addition, ho estin can be used as a set expression, without any regard to the antecedent or the predicate,

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of God. Greed in particular is synonymous with Satan and is associated with false prophets. It
includes both economic and sexual injustice. We saw how these same concepts (porneia, akatharsia,
pleonexia) occur in the earlier sentence (Eph 5:3), where three other vices are mentioned. In a
chiastic fashion, the vices of sexual immorality, impurity, and greed begin and end the sequencing of
vices in these two sentences.15 What, then, are the meanings and the function of the three additional
vices sandwiched in the midst of these verses: aischrotēs, mōrologia, and eutrapelia (Eph 5:4)? The
first group of sins primarily are actions (sexual immorality, greed, impurity), whereas the second
group of sins may be words (obscene, foolish, sarcastic).
Aischrotēs is related to the adjective aischros (“causing shame, dishonoring, reproachful”).
Aischros also can be “deformed.” Aischrotēs is “ugliness, deformity; filthy conduct.”16 Aischros in
the New Testament can refer to financial (Tit 1:7, 11; 1 Tim 3:8; 1 Pet 5:2), verbal (1 Cor 14:35),
and possibly sexual (1 Cor 11:6) “ugliness” or “shame.” In Ephesians 5:12 and Colossians 3:8, it
definitely refers to foul or obscene language. Thus, like porneia, akatharsia, and pleonexia (Eph 5:3),
aischrotēs has economic and sexual connotations.
Mōrologia refers to a type of words (logia). Mōros (adjective) is “dull, sluggish” or “stupid.”17 In
2 Timothy, it is a type of controversy which produces quarrels (2:23). Those who reject God’s true
message are called “fools” (e.g., 1 Cor 1:18, 21, 23; Matt 7:26; 23:17) or unspiritual (1 Cor 2:14).
Therefore, mōrologia would be words which do not lead to God’s harmonious truth.
Eutrapelia in ancient times normally had positive connotations: “ready wit, liveliness,
pleasantries.”18 It comes from “good” (eu) and “to turn” (trepō), “easily turning; nimble-witted,
witty, sharp.”19 Paul is not impressed with a bright and quick tongue, by itself. It might turn to
“ribaldry, low jesting.”20 Mōrologia and eutrapelia have broader and more abstract denotations than
sex or money or idols, but they could include these ideas.
All six vices (porneia, akatharsia, pleonexia, aischrotēs, mōrologia, and eutrapelia) are
characteristics of Gentiles or pagans who walk in darkness (Eph 5:6-8). The contrasting
characteristics of followers of Christ who “walk as children of light” are “goodness and
righteousness/justice and truth” (5:9).
which means that the relative neuter pronoun could refer to the last named person (“greedy person”) or to all three persons
(Robertson, Grammar, 713). F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament, trans. Robert W. Funk
(9th ed.; Chicago: University, 1961), 73 say ho estin means “that is to say,” “a formulaic phrase used without reference to the
gender of the word explained…Yet the gender is readily assimilated to the predicate where there is identification.” The neuter
singular relative pronoun occurs four other times in Ephesians and in every case the pronoun agrees with an antecedent
(pneuma 1:14; 6:17; musterion 3:4, 5).
In Colossians the singular neuter relative pronoun sometimes agrees with an antecedent (soma 1:24; musterion 1:27;
4:3, cheirographon 2:14), and sometimes refers back to a general idea (Col 1:29; 3:14, 17, 23, 25). Why not, then, could the
neuter pronoun agree with neuter “this”? “This,” although accusative case, begins the sentence, emphasizing “this,” what the
Ephesians know. The specifics are contained in the midst of the sentence (“every sexually immoral person or impure person
or greedy person”). The extended subject ends with “which is an idolater,” a referral back to the first word “this.” All of
these people will not have an inheritance in Christ’s reign. Grammatically, the neuter relative pronoun in Ephesians 5:5 could
refer to “greedy person” or to the pronoun “this.” We can establish a good case for “this.”
15 “Chiastic” as an adjective refers only to general thought sequencing. A “chiasm” is a type of parallelism, which
is not present here. The only words parallel are porneia (v.3)/ pornos (v.5), kai akatharsia (v.3)/ē akathartos (v.5), ē pleonexia
(v.3)/ē pleonektēs (v.5). Pas breaks the parallelism twice: after akatharsia (v.3), before pornos (v.5). The intermediate words
are totally not parallel in form. See Aída Besançon Spencer, Paul’s Literary Style: A Stylistic and Historical Comparison of II
Corinthians 11:16-12:13, Romans 8:9-39, and Philippians 3:2-4:13 (Lanham: University Press of America, 1998), 189-90.
Cf. Porter, “Chiasm” Zeitschrift: 270-76.
16 Liddell & Scott, Lexicon, 43.
17 Ibid., 1158.
18 Ibid., 735.
19 Joseph Henry Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Marshallton: National Foundation
for Christian Education, 1889), 263.
20 Ibid. Marvin R. Vincent defines eutrapelia as “polished and witty speech as the instrument of sin.” Word Studies in
the New Testament III (New York: Scribner’s, 1903), 398.

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The antidote to all these six sins is “thanksgiving” (eucharistia, v.4). As the opposite,
thanksgiving clarifies that greed is lack of appreciation of and satisfaction with God’s gifts, while
sexual immorality and impurity are lack of appreciation of and satisfaction with God’s covenanted
spouse. Thanksgiving affects one’s behavior and one’s words. “Thanksgiving” is appreciation. When
we thank God, our thanks are in effect a profession of belief in God (for example, Rom 1:21). For
instance, ten lepers were healed by Jesus, but only one, after noticing he was healed, turned back
and thanked Jesus (Luke 17:11-19).21 All are temporarily healed, but only one is eternally healed,
that is, only he is “saved” (v.19).
Eucharistia and its cognates, eucharisteō and eucharistos occur fifty-four times in the New
Testament (40 times by Paul, which includes three references in Acts, 74 per cent of the New
Testament usages).22 As a concept, thanksgiving is very important to Paul. Eucharistos is composed
of eu (“well”) and charizomai (“to do something pleasant or agreeable,” “to do a favor, gratify”).23
In the context of Ephesians 5, believers are thankful for Christ who loved them and gave himself
up for them (5:2; 3:19). They are thankful because they once were “darkness” but now they are
“light” (5:18). Paul mentions many additional reasons to be thankful throughout Ephesians:
God has blessed the “saints” in Christ with every spiritual blessing, having adopted them as his
children through Jesus Christ (1:5), freely bestowed his glorious grace (1:6; 2:7-8; 4:7), given them
redemption through his blood, forgiveness of trespasses (1:7-8; 2:5, 13; 5:2, 25-26), made known
his will (1:9), given them an inheritance (1:11, 18; 2:19; 5:5), marked them with the seal of the
Holy Spirit (1:13), called them to hope (1:18; 2:12; 4;1), given them great power (1:19), made
them alive, raised them up with Christ (2:5-6), recreated them for good works, according to God’s
likeness (2:10; 4:24; 5:27), given them access to the Father (2:18; 3:6, 12), and made them God’s
very dwelling place (2:21-22). Giving thanksgiving to God the Father should be a way of life done
always on behalf of all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (5:20). John MacPherson summarizes:
“He who thanks God for His blessings cannot turn back to find his joy in that which lies under
God’s curse.”24
Paul expresses similar reasons for thanksgiving in Colossians 3: the “saints” have been raised
with Christ (3:1, 4), they once lived according to their earthly nature, but now live in the new self,
recreated according to the Creator’s image (3:7, 10; 2:13, 20). They are called to be “thankful,”
giving thanks to God the Father through the Lord Jesus (3:15, 17; 1:12), even to “abound” in
thanksgiving (2:7; 4:2). Paul adds many additional reasons for the saints to be thankful throughout
Colossians: hope (1:5, 23, 27), grace (1:6), power (1:1), inheritance (1:12; 3:24), redemption and
forgiveness of sins (1:14, 20; 2:13-14), reconciliation (1:22), knowledge of God’s will (1:26; 2:2-3),
and resurrection (2:12).
At a more remote context in Ephesians 5, imitating God by walking in love and offering our
lives to God in behalf of others (Eph 5:1-2) is important to prevent re-entering a pagan life style.
These actions focus our attention on God and therefore lead us away from greedy idolatry. The
resultant “fruit” will be “goodness and righteousness and truth” (5:9). We will become more and
more like God who is good and just and true. In Colossians, seeking to please God is described as
seeking Christ’s presence (Col 3:1), a synonym for imitating God (Eph 5:1).
Literary Context of Colossians 3:5
In Colossians, Paul reminds the readers that, if they have a full knowledge of Christ, they
should act to please God. Who is Christ? Christ reconciles (1:3-2:5), Christ enlivens (2:6-23), Christ
is seated with God (3:1-4:2). The adjectival clause “greed, which is idolatry” (3:5) fits under the
21
22
23
24

See also 2 Cor 4:15; 9:11-12; Rev 7:12.
Acts 24:3; 27:35; 28:15.
Thayer, Lexicon, 256, 264, 665.
John MacPherson, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1892), 373.

37

larger theme of 3:5-11: the readers need to put to death the earthly nature since the new self is
renewed in knowledge in the image of the Creator. As in Ephesians, Paul is exhorting his readers to
live out their faith. Also, as in Ephesians, a positive exhortation (in Colossians, to set their hearts on
things above where Christ is seated [3:1-4; Eph 5:1-2]) is followed by a negative warning of what
to avoid (Col 3:5-11; Eph 5:3-6).
“Greed” or “greediness” (pleonexia) in Colossians is again grouped with “sexual immorality”
(porneia) and “impurity” (akatharsia) (3:5). However, in the Colossians letter only greediness
appears to be singled out as “idolatry.” Colossians 3:5-7 reads:
Therefore, put to death the bodily members, the ones upon the earth: sexual
immorality, impurity, lustful passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry), on
account of which God’s wrath comes,25 in which also you yourselves once walked since
you were living among these things.
The vice “greed” or “greediness” is emphasized.26 “The members” (melos) is a “bodily part.” Paul
has elsewhere used the parts of a body as an extended metaphor to describe the interdependence of
Christians (Eph 4:25; Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 12:12, 14, 18-20, 22, 25). In Colossians 2, as in Romans
6, melos describes what has material substance which was once offered to impurity (Rom 6:12-13,
19). In Colossians, these “members” are not neutral, but “earthly” in a negative sense.27 Thus, God’s
wrath is against all earthly vices, not just greed. All of them are earthly actions which must be “put
to death.” All of this behavior contrasts with the behavior the readers should have if they seek what
is above, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right (Col 3:1). What is above contrasts with what is on
the earth (v. 2).
Pathos, Epithumia
Two additional vices are included in the context of “greed” in Colossians: “lustful passion”
(pathos) and “evil desire” (epithumia, kake). Pathos for ancient Greeks is simply “that which happens
to a person or thing,” “what one has experienced,” including an “emotion” or “passion.”28 It occurs
only three times in the New Testament, but always in a negative sense. In Romans 1:26-27 and
1 Thessalonians 4:3-6, Paul uses pathos for sexual experiences. When people become involved
in idolatry, not worshiping the Creator, God gives them up to their own homosexual “passions”
(Rom 1:25-27, pathos), the “desires” of their hearts (1:24, epithumia). Pathos and epithumia are also
characteristics of Gentiles who do not know God. They are types of porneia and pleonekteō. Their
opposite is self-control, holiness, and honor (1 Thess 4:3-6). Thus, pathos and kake epithumia are
synonyms for porneia, pleonexia and akatharsia in these references.
Epithumia, epithumeō are frequent New Testament words. Properly, the root idea is “to keep the
thumos turned upon a thing, hence [cf. our to set one’s heart upon] to have a desire for, long for.”
Epithumia is the more active side, pathos the more passive side.29 In the New Testament, epithumia is
primarily used in a negative way for the desires of the old, earthly self30 and the flesh.31 It may be a
synonym for “covet” (Rom 7:7-8) and have financial (1 Tim 6:9) or sexual (1 Thess 4:5; Matt 5:28)
25 P46 and B as well as the earliest Coptic version do not include “upon the sons of disobedience.” Except for Codex
Sinaiticus, the mss. including the phrase are later or of less reliable text-types.
26 “Which” (hētis) is feminine singular, agreeing with the gender and number of “greed(iness)” (pleonexia). Only
“greediness” (pleonexia) has an article; (“sexual immorality” [porneia], “impurity” [akatharsia], “lustful passion” [pathos],
“evil desire” [epithumia, kakē] do not), therefore, singling out this one vice, “greed(iness).” The relative pronoun (ha), “on
account of which,” that introduces the second adjectival clause (“on account of which God’s wrath comes”), since it is
neuter plural accusative, appears to agree with “the members, the ones” (ta melē ta).
27 In the Old Testament, melos is literally used as the parts of an animal which could be used in a sacrificial offering:
Exod 29:17; Lev 1:6, 12; 8:19; 9:13. Also see Job 9:28; Judg 19:29. See also Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 289.
28 Liddell and Scott, Lexicon, 1285.
29 Thayer, Lexicon, 238, 472.
30 Eph 4:22; 1 Pet 1:14; Col 3:5; Tit 2:12; 2 Pet 1:4, 2:10.
31 Eph 2:3; Rom 13:14; Gal 5:16; 1 Pet 2:11; 4:2; 2 Pet 2:18; 1 John 2:16-17.

38

connotations. Satan is the origin of evil desires (John 8:44).32
Pathos and epithumia are close in meaning to porneia, akatharsia and pleonexia. They too are
closely related to idolatry and to sexual and financial exploitation. All of these vices are typical
of the readers’ former self (Col 3:7). As in Ephesians 5:3-5, a second group of vices is attached
which includes vices of passion, action, and word: “rage” (orgē), “passion” (thumos), “evil” (kakia),
“slander” (blasphemia), and “obscene language” (aischrologia) (Col 3:8). All of these vices also
occur in Ephesians (4:31: orgē, thumos, kakia, blasphemia; 5:4: aischrotēs). However, these vices in
Colossians are not embedded in the midst of the primary three vices (like Eph 5:3-5). Orgē and
thumos are close synonyms. Orgē is the natural impulse, the human propensity for “rage.”33 When
referring to God, it will be rightful “punishment.”34 Humans can be agents of God’s punishment
(Rom 13:4-5). Orgē is outflow of power (Rom 9:22). Thumos is the “principle of life, feeling and
thought, especially of strong feeling and passion.” Thuō is to “rage, seethe.”35 It too can refer to
human or satanic “rage.”36 When referring to God, it also will be rightful punishment.37 Kakia is
a general word for sin.38 It can refer to greed as a sin (Acts 8:22) and be a result of idolatry (Rom
1:29). It can be actions or words (Tit 3:3; 1 Pet 2:1). Blasphemia are primarily words spoken against
someone, including against God.39 For a human to claim to be equal to God would be “blasphemy,”
“speaking against” God.40 Aischrologia, as we saw, is “obscene” or “shameful language.” Thumos,
like porneia, can be a result of idolatry (Rev 14:8). Kakia, as epithumia, akartharsia, pathos, and
pleonexia can result from idolatry, too (Rom 1:24-26).41
Many commentators will interpret Ephesians 5:5 in light of Colossians 3:5.42 “A greedy
person” is an “idolater” in Ephesians because in Colossians “greediness” is “idolatry.” The similar
time, place of writing, and language certainly encourage such conclusions. The immediate contexts
also have many similarities. Nevertheless, a close reading of the texts indicates some distinctive
differences. Pleonektēs has no article in Ephesians to distinguish it from the other two attributes,
32 Epithumia is neutral in Phil 1:23 and positive in 1 Thess 2:17; 1 Tim 3:1 (epithumeō); Luke 22:15 (epithumeō).
33 Liddell and Scott, Lexicon, 1246; Eph 4:31; Col 3:8; 1 Tim 2:8; James 1:19-20; Matt 2:16 (thumoomai).
34 Rom 1:18; 2:5, 8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; 12:19; Eph 2:3; 5:6; Col 3:6; 1 Thess 1:10; 2:16; 5:9; Heb 3:11; 4:3; Rev 14:10;
16:19; 19:15. Orgē refers to the Lamb’s punishment also in Rev 6:16-17 and to judgment in general, Rev 11:18.
35 Liddell and Scott, Lexicon, 810, 813.
36 Eph 4:31; Col 3:8; Luke 4:28; 2 Cor 12:20; Rev 12:12.
37 Rom 2:8; Heb 11:27; Rev 14:10; 15:1.
38 Kakia is “sin” in 1 Cor 5:8; 14:20; Eph 4:31; Tit 3:3; James 1:21; 1 Pet 2:1, 16.
39 Blasphemia as “speaking a word against” is found in Matt 12:31-32; Jude 9; Rev 2:9; 13:1; 5, 6. The basis is
internal, Matt 15:19.
40 Matt 26:65; Luke 5:21; John 10:33.
41 Nevertheless, the sins in Colossians 3:8 are not as material or related to the physical form as the ones in 3:5.
Melick sees the sins in Col 3:8 as destroying “social relationships and are more expressive of attitudes than specific actions”
(Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 293). But, porneia and pleonexia in 3:5 are “social in nature,” so actions to avoid these
sins “are necessary to harmonious relationships in the body of Christ.”
42 Robertson, Grammar, 713; Abbott, Epistles, 150; John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries: Ephesians-Jude
(Wilmington: Associated Publishers, n.d.), 1986; Arthur Patzia, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, New International Biblical
Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1990), 257; Andrew T. Lincoln, Word Biblical Commentary 42: Ephesians (Dallas:
Word, 1990), 324 (“all idolatry is a form of covetousness, for by refusing to acknowledge life and worth as a gift from the
Creator, it seeks to seize them from the creation as booty.”); Meyer, Ephesians, 268; MacDonald, Colossians and Ephesians
(“There may be a connection between greed and sexual immorality in this verse, for greed could be depicted as unrestrained
sexual appetite”), 135, 312; O’Brien, Ephesians, 362-63 (yet “along with greed for riches and power, sexual lust is an
idolatrous obsession”); C. Leslie Mitton, Ephesians, New Century Bible (London: Oliphants, 1976), 179; G.H.P. Thompson,
The Letters of Paul to the Ephesians, to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge:
University, 1967), 78 (greed is an idol “because it is a worship of a false god, self”); Hodge, Ephesians, 285; Ernest Best,
A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Ephesians, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T&T Clark,
1998), 481; William Hendrickson, New Testament Commentary (London: Banner of Truth, 1967), 230; Eduard Lohse, A
Commentary on the Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, trans. W.R. Poehlmann and R.J. Karris, ed. H. Koester,
Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971), 139 (“covetousness brings in its train idolatry”); F.F. Bruce, The Epistles to the
Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1984), 143, 372.

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whereas in Colossians it does have an article. Pleonektēs describes a person, whereas pleonexia
(Col.) describes a concept/action. Two other vices appear in both lists (pornos, -eia; akathartos, -sia),
but two additional vices appear in Colossians (pathos, kakē epithumia). In Colossians, all the vices
describe “the ones upon the earth,” what must be put to death, whereas in Ephesians the people are
those who will not inherit the Messiah God’s reign. Here is a summary in chart form:
Ephesians 5:5

Colossians 3:5

“a greedy person, which is an idolater”
pleonektēs, ho estin eidōlolatrēs

“greed, which is idolatry”
tēn pleonexian, hētis estin eidōlolatria

“this” = idolater, a person
“this” = people who will not inherit the
Messiah God’s reign
“this” = pornos or

“the members, the ones upon the earth” =
(what must be put to death)
porneia,

akathartos or

akatharsia,

pleonektēs

pathos,
kakē epithumia,
pleonexia

polysyndeton

pleonexia = idolatry

neuter relative pronoun (ho)

feminine relative pronoun (hētis)

no article before pleonektēs

article before pleonektēs

The difference in language between Ephesians and Colossians may be due to a difference in
emphasis. In Ephesians, the point is more serious: who will not inherit God’s reign, not simply what
actions must be put to death. However, possibly “the sexual immorality, which is idolatry” (Col
3:5) could be the attribute which is placed last in order to summarize the whole list since all six
attributes are related to idolatry and its sexual and financial deviances. Moreover, melos (“bodily
members”) has to do with material sins, the essence of an idolatry which is greed.
Idolatry Is a Shadow of the Living God
As we have seen, “greed” is part of a life cast away from God. That is why greed is related to
idolatry. “Idolatry” (eidōlolatria) was not the word most Gentiles would use for their worship.43 As a
matter of fact, Friedrich Buechsel found only one passage where a pagan Greek used the term “idol”
(eidōlon) for an “idol”!44 The Greeks normally used agalma, which means “glory” or a “pleasing
gift,” a statue in honor of a god. The term eidōlon is a disparaging term. It means a “phantom,” “an
unsubstantial form,” an “image reflected in a mirror or in water.” An idol is something “without
reality” or false, which “fools have put in the place of the true God.”45 It is a misshapened shadow
of God. Therefore, as with anything false, believers of the true God need to “flee from the worship
of idols” (1 Cor 10:14). “Idolatry” (eidōlolatria) comes from eidos, “that which is seen, form, shape.”
What makes the “desire for more” related to “idolatry” is that we desire more of what can be seen
and has form. Economic idolatry is wanting “more” possessions, more than we need. Therefore,
the God without form (Deut 4:12, 15) is replaced by gods with form. What relates economic greed
43 It may be a “Christian formation” (Dunn, Col., 215).
44 Friedrich Buechsel, “eidōlon, eidōlothuton, eidōleion, kateidolos, eidōlolatrēs, eidōlolatria,” Theological Dictionary of
the New Testament, II, ed. G. Kittel, trans. G. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 376. That one passage is Polyb.
31, 3, 13-15.
45 Ibid., 377.

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to sexual greed? Both are sins concerning matter or flesh (as opposed to sins of the mind).46 Sexual
greed is wanting physical intimacy with those people to whom we are not fully committed. It is also
a sin of the flesh, of the “seen.”
Ancient pagan worship would often combine uncommitted sexual relations with irresponsible
material stewardship. When Paul described the Israelites who became idolaters, he described them
as indulging in sexual immorality, testing God, and complaining (1 Cor 10:7-10). When some of
the Christians at Pergamum followed the teaching of Balaam, they ate “food sacrificed to idols”
and practiced “fornication” (Rev 2:14). When I first heard a renowned secular feminist in 1970, I
was surprised to hear her emphasize sexual purity. She said that to allow a man to seduce a woman
sexually simply results in his advantage and her disadvantage. But ten to twenty years later, when
some secular feminists had turned to pagan ideology for their spiritual enrichment, they turned
to promoting sexual “freedom.” In effect, they have resurrected pagan fertility ideology, where
sexuality is considered necessary for the well-functioning of nature.47
The correlation between economics and idolatry is mentioned in Acts. The riot that occurred at
Ephesus about Artemis was partially fueled by fears of economic loss. Demetrius, the silversmith,
complained to other silversmiths that, because of the considerable number of converts to
Christianity, they would be in danger that their trade would come into disrepute (Acts 19:24-27).
The idols themselves were often made of precious metals (Deut 7:25). The worship of Artemis
was associated with literal symbolical human sacrifice. Processors, in her honor, carried phalluses
as clubs. According to tradition, Timothy was clubbed to death by such a procession. The god
Zeus was described in ancient mythic stories as a manifold rapist who understands “quite well
how to come secretly to a couch, taking as your own marriage beds which no one has given you”
(Euripedes, Heracles Furens, 342-47).48 Such sex is dehumanizing and lethal.
Thus, when the New Testament writers refer to idolatry, they often refer in the same context
to greed and sexual impurity. For example, Paul lists as the “works of the flesh” (as opposed to the
“fruit of the Spirit”): “sexual immorality (porneia), impurity (akatharsia), licentiousness, idolatry
(eidōlolatria), harmful drugs (pharmakeia), enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions,
factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing” (Gal 5:19-22). Peter describes “what the Gentiles like
to do” as “living in licentiousness, passions (epithumia), drunkenness, revels, carousing, lawless
idolatry” (eidōlolatria) (1 Pet 4:3). Paul also groups together the sexually immoral (pornos), greedy
(pleonektēs), robbers and idolaters (eidōlolatrēs) in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 and 6:9. Chapter 6, verse 9
also includes among those who do not inherit God’s reign: “adulterers (moichos), male prostitutes,
sodomites, drunkards, and revilers.” As we saw, sexual immorality (porneia) is a broad term
referring to any sexual activities done in a way not pleasing to God. Thus, “male prostitutes” and
“sodomites” are two more specific types of porneia. These are all actions that can take over one’s
life in place of God. Sexual immorality, adultery, male sexual perversion, and homosexuality are
sexual replacements for God. Robbing and greediness are economic replacements. Drunkenness
is a drug replacement. These actions also take verbal manifestations. To reiterate the same point,
the Revelation to John ends with a similar description of those people who stand outside the
New Jerusalem: the sexually immoral (pornos), idolaters (eidōlolatrēs), and, as well, the cowardly,
faithless, polluted, murderers, sorcerers, liars, practicers of falsehood (Rev 21:8; 22:15). Idolatry has
nothing to do with the love of God. Therefore, John ends his letter exhorting his readers to “keep
away from idols” (1 John 5:21).
46 The perspective on idolatry I am proposing is not all inclusive. A sin of the mind might also be self-reliance,
walking in one’s own strength, symbolized by creating one’s own idols. See Aida Besançon Spencer, “Sherirut as SelfReliance,” Journal of Biblical Literature 100 (June 1981): 247-48.
47 See Aida Besançon Spencer and others, The Goddess Revival (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995).
48 Catherine Clark Kroeger in The Goddess Revival, 60-62, 66. The Wisdom of Solomon also notes that “The
devising of idols is the beginning of immorality,” 14:12.

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When God had established a covenant, an agreement, with the Hebrews, the first
commandment was to remind them of how they had been brought out of the land of Egypt, out of
the house of slavery, therefore, in appreciation and love they were to “have no other gods” (Exod
20:2). They consequently were not to make an idol and worship it (vv. 4-5). The last commandment
was for them not to “covet” their neighbor’s house, spouse, servants, animals, or anything
belonging to the neighbor (v. 17). Thus, at the very beginning, the desire for “more” that was not
one’s own affected sexuality and economics. (See also Deut 5.) The point is not that a spouse is a
belonging, but rather the focus is on desiring (epithumeō, Exod 20:17, LXX) what is not ours. The
ancient Jesus son of Sirach phrased it well: “The covetous eye is not satisfied with its share” (Eccles
14:9 REB). The author of Hebrews reiterates: “Be content with what you have” (13:5).
The Hebrew for “covet” (hamad) ties together some of these New Testament ideas. It can mean
“covet” or “desire,” indicating why “greed” (pleonexia) is often found near words of desire (e.g.,
epithumia, pathos, Col 3:5; Gal 5:20). In Romans 7, to “desire” (epithumia, epithumeō) is to “covet”
(vv. 7-8). Hamad can have positive or negative connotations, even as pleion or pleonazō can be
positive or negative. Hamad mainly is used in the Old Testament for material possessions, fields,
vineyards, temple vessels, houses, food, garments, treasures.49 However, it is also used for people
and sexual desire. For example, the physical attraction or desire between a man and a woman is
compared to the sensual pleasantness of sitting under an apple tree: “As an apple tree among the
trees of the wood, so is my beloved among young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and
his fruit was sweet to my taste” (Song 2:3 NRSV). The misuse of this wholesome desire, when it
turns from “desire” to “covet,” occurs when the object should not be desired: “They covet fields,
and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their
inheritance” (Mic 2:2 NRSV). These fields and houses belong to others. The mother and father tell
the son not to “desire” the beauty of the neighbor’s wife. It will destroy the adulterer as well as the
jealous husband (Prov 6:25-35).
The tenth commandment serves as an apt summary for all the commandments and a
counterpoint for the first two commandments. In the tenth commandment, as in the first, something
or someone of material form replaces the possession of the true Lord of one’s life, the one living,
loving, invisible God.50
Summary
How do these different passages on idolatry, greed, sexual immorality, impurity, desire,
pivoting out from Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5 interrelate? Sins such as “greed” (pleonexia),
“blasphemy/slander” (blasphemia), “evil” (kakia) and “sexual immorality” (porneia) begin inside
people (Mark 7:21-22). The act of idolatry (worshiping and serving the creation) will result in
God allowing these desires to develop into actions (epithumia, akatharsia, pathos, pleonexia, kakia,
Rom 1:24-26). Gratitude to God as Creator and serving God can stop them from activating (Rom
49 The object of hamad may be land (Exod 34:24; Jer 3:19; 12:10; Ps 106:24; Zech 7:14); vineyards (Amos 5:11);
houses (Ezek 26:12); vessels (2 Chron 36:19); temple (Ezek 24:21); food (Dan 10:3); garments (Gen 27:15); treasures (Hos
9:6; Joel 3:5; Hag 2:7; Dan 11:43). The object of hamad is also people: Saul (1 Sam 9:20); Daniel (Dan 9:23; 10:11,19);
Ezekiel’s wife (Ezek 24:16-18); warriors (Ezek 23:6, 12, 23). The Lord’s “ordinances” are more “desirable” than gold (Ps
19:9-10).
50 Richard R. Melick, Jr. also indicates the importance of relating idolatry with sexual sins and covetousness because
of the 10 commandments. Perhaps Paul’s “thinking follows the two tables of the law. Positively, love for God and neighbor
encapsulated the two sets of five commandments. Negatively, idolatry and immorality encapsulated these commandments…
Covetousness is number ten. Significantly, number ten equals number one, having no other gods beside God… If number
ten, covetousness, is actually a violation of number one, idolatry, they are all of the same character.” Philippians, Colossians,
Philemon, 289, 291. Walter Liefeld also notes that the Ten Commandments begin with the command against idolatry and
conclude with the command against covetousness. Lack of thanksgiving is a failure to acknowledge God as the giver of
every good gift. Sinful humans focus on the gift alone instead of God. “To substitute anything (or anyone) as the object of
our desire and (the natural consequence) the object of our worship for God is idolatry.” Ephesians, The IVP New Testament
Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997), 126-27.

42

1:25; Eph 5:4, 1-2; Col 3:2). Thus, these types of activities describe an idolater: primarily, sexual
immorality (porneia, pornos), impurity (akatharsia, akathartos), greed (pleonexia, pleonektēs), but also
related are lustful passion (epithumia) and desire (pathos) (Col 3:5). More removed, but associated,
are obscenity (aischrotēs, aischrologia), foolish words (mōrologia), sarcasm (eutrapelia), rage (orgē),
passion (thumos), evil (kakia), and slander (blasphemia) (Eph 5:3-5). “Greed,” or the desire to have
more than God gives, is an apt summary of the primary activities in idolatry (Col 3:5).
Summary of Relationship between Idolatry, God, Immorality, Impurity, Desire
Inside people

Mark 7:21-22

kakos
pornea
pleonexia
blasphemia, etc.

Idolatry

epithumia

Rom 1:24-26, 29

1) akatharsia
pathos
2) pleonexia
kakia, etc.
Idolatry

1) porneia / pornos

Eph 5:3-5

akatharsia / akathartos
pleonexia
2) aischrotēs
mōrologia
eutrapelia
Idolatry

1) pleonexia
2) porneia

Col 3:5

akatharsia
Pathos epithumia

porneia

1 Thess 4:3-5, 7

akatharsia
Idolatry

thumos

Rev 14:8

porneia
Works of flesh

porneia

Gal 5:19-20

akatharsia
eidōlolatria
Thumos, etc.
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By studying “greed” in the New Testament and especially in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5,
we have learned that “having more” than we need or “greed” is present both in the Christian and
the pagan or “Gentile” walk or way of life. In the walk following Satan, walkers grasp onto sexual
relations and financial harvests that are not theirs and they do so at someone else’s expense and
harm. These walkers stumble in the dark, deceiving, and being deceived, simply aging, but never
maturing in God’s perspective. They walk aimlessly, unfeelingly, ungratefully, as strangers to God,
bound to circle the earth to reach only God’s punishment as their destination. In the walk following
Christ, travelers end up with “more” of God’s gifts and virtues, especially of thanksgiving, love,
Christ’s presence, and, eventually, of justice or righteousness, goodness, truth, and holiness. Walkers
can see more clearly in the light God casts. They walk purposefully, sensitively, becoming inheritors
and friends of God, ever maturing. Their walk has a heavenly destination.
In effect, the life-style of ancient pagan religions may infiltrate the Christian church. The
misuse of finances and sexuality are not isolated actions, but interconnected actions that enter
one into an idolatrous way of life. They are sins of form, one aspect of idolatry, but God offers an
authentic form of these shadow copies: stewardship of God’s belongings, committed heterosexual
monogamous sexual intimacy, and purity.
Interconnected Systems
Darkness

Light

Pagan religion

Monotheism

Reject God as Creator

Honor God as Creator

Idolatry (of form: economics, sexual)

Offering oneself to God
Christ’s presence

No inheritance

Inheritance

More fruits of darkness:

More fruits of light:

1. sexual immorality

1. thankfulness

2. impurity

2. love

3. greed (econ, sexual)

3. justice/righteousness

4. obscenity

4. truth

5. foolishness

5. holiness

6. sarcasm

6. sexual purity

7. passion

7. good stewardship

8. bad desire

8. purity

9. not thankful
The Bible (and especially the Apostle Paul) teaches that greed is descriptive of a pagan life-style,
a life cast away from God, wherein one lacks appreciation of and satisfaction with God and God’s
gifts related to possessions, relationships, and purity. Gods of form and sight replace the invisible
God. Thus, greed is desiring more than God gives and then grasping more than one’s due by taking
away from someone else, by wronging or treating unjustly that other person. It refers to economic/
financial inequality and sexual injustice, irresponsible material stewardship and uncommitted
sexual relations. These sins contaminate others.
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In contrast, a godly life style, a life imitating God’s love, expresses appreciation of and
satisfaction with God and God’s gifts related to possessions, relationships, and purity. Paramount
are an attitude, actions, and words of thanksgiving or appreciation. Thankfulness results in
generosity and sexual self-control and holiness as one experiences God’s love and personal presence.
Several writers have suggested that greed is lessened by recognizing human limitations and limits to
growth in wealth accumulation and consumer desires realization/consumption, counterbalanced by
the promotion of loving relationships.51
The ramifications of greed are individual, group, corporate, national, and international. What
are the ramifications of thanksgiving, particularly its corporate ramifications?
1. In what way does a policy of thanksgiving or appreciation (in contrast to grasping for an
unrestrained more) affect the way a company/institution is run?
2. What have been the results economically and in quality of life?
3. Does sexual morality have a place in this company?
4. What is the understanding of financial justice and equality and stewardship and sexual
justice?
5. What is the company’s purpose or mission?
6. Who does it aim to please?
7. What kinds of rewards are offered to workers?
8. What is the place of marketing?
9. What is the place of rest and positive relationships in the institutional structure?
Telephone interview with Rev. Dr. John H. Womack Sr., May 6, 2015
Dr. Womack is a loving husband and father of three children. He is the Founder, President
and CEO of three businesses: JJS Services, Inc., a full janitorial company serving over 800 people
in 13 different states (the company took care of facilities totaling over 10 million square feet);
Peabody Paper and Industrial Supply Company (distributor of janitorial supplies and equipment);
and Classical Foods, Inc. (a full meat and deli store and catering business). Among many other
awards, in 1987 the business was rated #76 of the top 100 African-American owned and operated
companies in the United States by Black Enterprise Magazine. Dr. Womack is an ordained minister
with the American Baptist Church USA, and has pastored for over 18 years. In 2001, Rev. Womack
received his Doctorate of Ministry from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he now
serves on the Board of Trustees.
In what way does a policy of thanksgiving or appreciation (in contrast to grasping for an
unrestrained more) affect the way a business is run?
My first priority is to give thanks and honor to God because he made it possible. When I
started, I didn’t have this total perspective. Initially, I believed that the businesses were solely a
means for me to provide for my family. Later, I realized that God had a bigger plan. It was not just
about providing for my family, but also serving and building capability within communities. God
placed people in my life to encourage me in the business. They surrounded me to help me. It was
important for employees to observe a posture of thanksgiving in me, as their leader. We, too, were
looking for thankful people. In modeling the significance of thanksgiving and purpose, I never
51 Jung Mo Sung, “Greed, Desire and Theology,” The Ecumenical Review 63.3 (October 2011): 255, 257-58, 26061; Shanta Premawardhana, “Greed as Violence: Methodological Challenges in Interreligious Dialogue on the Ethics of the
Global Financial Crisis,” Journal of Religious Ethics 39:2 (June 2011): 232; James M. Childs Jr., Greed: Economics and
Ethics in Conflict (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 83, 90. Childs describes several limits: “the limits inherent in our dependent
relationship with God, the limits of the resources of our world, and the limits imposed by the need to consider the well-being
of our neighbors” (90).

45

held a meeting where we didn’t first have prayer. We always prayed, even in the board of directors
meetings, even if the participants were not Christian. We ran our business to give thanks and
honor to God. “Greed” came up sometimes with the board of directors. They leaned towards the
concept of profit solely as dollars and cents versus the development of people. However, our vision
and mission helped us to focus. We wanted employees to understand what the company stood for.
Promotion had to be gradual; the employees had to be trained.
What have been the results economically and in quality of life?
The results economically and in quality of life have been numerous. Each business venture
provided resources for me to care for my family, put my children through college, build economic,
social, and spiritual capacity in the community and in the church (with our giving tithes and
offerings). Families were strengthened as the employees were paid a fair wage and their skill sets
were expanded.
Does sexual morality have a place in this business?
Yes, we always dealt with sexual morality. Everyone had to be treated fairly and morally and
in a godly way. We did not discriminate against male or female. All these policies were expressed in
the employee manual.
What is the understanding of financial justice and equality and stewardship and sexual justice?
Stewardship in a company is similar to stewardship in a home or church. Stewardship is carried
out. The employer is also responsible so that all are being blessed.
What is the business’s purpose or mission?
Initially, each business’s purpose was to provide income for me and my family, enabling us
to lead the life God wanted us to lead. We were “going,” but not fully “knowing.” Gradually, the
purpose changed to the purpose designed by God and for me. God gave the increase day by day.
God began to guide me at every phase of the business. The mission became different -- to carry
out God’s will. As in Matthew 28:18-20, our goal became to make disciples in the world. The
employees were charged to do the same with those with whom they worked.
Who does it aim to please?
Our aim is to please God and carry out his will.
What kinds of rewards are offered to workers?
Workers were offered promotion and the opportunity to get ahead and to provide for their
families and carry out God’s will in their lives. They were promoted within the organization. The
employees were taught how to “fish for themselves” – learning the inner workings of the business.
Many employees eventually began their own businesses. Our goal was to support them, not hinder
them.
What is the place of marketing?
The most important marketing was a job well done. Buildings were well cleaned. Food
was provided—physically and spiritually. Other than that, marketing was word of mouth and
advertisement, describing the benefits of the company.
What is the place of rest and positive relationships in the institutional structure?
The place of my rest, as CEO, was minimal. For employees, what they desired. In a godly
business, we had to do the right thing to nurture a positive relationship with the customer. As a
minority-run business, to have a positive relationship with a client, we had to be twice as good as
our counterpart. We had to have faith, be steadfast, and not give up.

46

Any additional comments about greed?
It is very easy in business for greed, etc., to happen because people are so selfish and want to
get ahead too fast, or workers want to be over other employees and not treat them fairly. I believe
an employer should treat people fairly, although not everyone will do well. Some colleagues are
unjust and think that they are greater than someone else. God has really humbled me in a way. I
still do not know how that happened. Even though the business was very successful, we could have
been more successful from a worldly point of view, but I can relax and feel better and not look over
my shoulder since God is the One who has blessed.
Today, Dr. Womack is in the process of organizing a ministry of mission to mobilize the
underprivileged to become Christian entrepreneurs. He believes that God has helped him proceed
from a beginning in poverty, sharecropping in Virginia in an undereducated, underprivileged, and
impoverished family, to being a successful and educated businessperson so that he can tell, show,
teach, and lead others to become solid Christian entrepreneurs. His outreach ministry will help
to mobilize underprivileged people to become Christian entrepreneurs: “By demonstrating how
God took care of us in the midst of challenging and sometimes insidious occurrences, I believe we
can attract increasing numbers of participants to try to start a business, acquire a better job, and/
or appear in the church sanctuary for the first time in a while (if ever), and worship with fellow
believers!” His seminars will teach about the basic fundamentals of starting a business from scratch,
how to determine what business best suits one, positives and negatives of starting a business,
developing business ethics, how to get help and who can help, and they will set up mentors for each
new businessperson. The seminars will help the participants prioritize goals, define a strategy, and
distinguish among the necessities of life, versus simply following their wants and desires: “I hope
that this will help them put things in the right perspective: trusting in a caring and compassionate
God—not for self-aggrandizement, but, rather, for the alleviation of abject poverty.” Rev. Dr.
Womack “recognizes that God has made all of his accomplishments possible and he encourages
others to pursue their dreams, for it is the Lord and not one’s ethnic background that allows one to
realize his or her dreams.”52
Aída Besançon Spencer is Professor of New Testament, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Hamilton. She also
teaches at the Boston campus. Together with her husband, William David Spencer, and others, she organized the Africanus
Journal and the Africanus Guild. She received her Ph.D. in New Testament from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,
Louisville, KY. She has published numerous books, articles, essays, and blogs, including most recently commentaries on
1 Timothy and 2 Timothy and Titus in the New Covenant Commentary Series (Cascade). Her interest in the problem of
economic greed goes back to her early years, being reared in the Dominican Republic where the poor and the wealthier
interact daily, her experience as a Community Organizer in Plainfield, New Jersey, and, of course, her teaching such New
Testament books as Ephesians, James, and the gospel of Luke. Having a stewardship model pleasing to God for their
household has been of high interest to her and Bill for many years.

52 This latter paragraph has excerpts from John H. Womack, “A Ministry of Mission: Mobilizing the Underprivileged
to Become Christian Entrepreneurs,” 1-4, and his resume, received May 2015. For more information, contact revwomack@
aol.com.

47

NCCS
From

New Covenant Commentary Series

Aída Besançon Spencer

& CASCADE B ook s

1 TIMOTHY
IISBN: 978-1-55635-991-0 / $22 / 192 pp.
“ explaining both lexical, grammatical, historical, and theological
“By
matters, and by focusing consistently on canonical connections and
m
p
pastoral application, Aída Spencer has written a lucid commentary
tthat will prove helpful for general readers, students, and pastors alike.”

ECKHARD J. SCHNABEL, Associate Editor, Bulletin of Biblical Research
E
“ Spencer provides a carefully researched, well-balanced, and
“Dr.
well-written exposition with special attention given to the difficult and
w
c
controversial texts relating to women, men, and to all Christians.
H
Highly recommended.”

JJOHN R. KOHLENBERGER III, Editor, The NIV Greek and English New
T
Testament


“Both
readable and detailed, this is a work that wise expositors will
keep within easy reach.”
k

GENE L. GREEN, Professor of New Testament, Wheaton College and
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School
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2 TIMOTHY AND TITUS
ISBN: 978-1-62564-253-0 / $21 / 184 pp.
“Concise and readable, [this volume] also provides in-depth
analysis of the flow of each letter, and serious word studies sensitive
to both biblical and Greco-Roman usage. . . . [it] is especially
sensitive to the gender-oriented instructions concerning leadership
and conduct in Titus and 2 Timothy. Highly recommended.”

JOHN R. KOHLENBERGER III, Editor, The NIV Greek and English
New Testament
“Aída Spencer’s rich exposition of Paul’s last letters is a welcome
companion to her work on the first of the Pastoral letters, 1 Timothy.
. . . Spencer carefully attends to the world of the author and his
recipients, framing his message within the cultural matrix of the
Greco-Roman world. At the same time, she helps pastor, teacher,
and student bridge the gap between the message then and now.
Listen and relish as you hear the timbre of the apostolic voice afresh
and anew.”
GENE L. GREEN, author of The Letters to the Thessalonians

48

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Perspectives on Anger from Ephesians 4
Deb Beatty Mel
The instruction from Ephesians 4:26, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger,” is usually
interpreted literally. For instance, married couples may be advised to stay awake until they have
settled a dispute, even if it takes all night.1 Someone with a counseling background once suggested
to me that, rather than take this literally, we should not let the “sun of consciousness” go down on
our anger. This article will examine the instructions for Christian living, especially those relating
to anger, at the end of Ephesians chapter 4, by looking at the context of the letter, especially its
dominant theme of unity. After looking at the overall logical structure of Paul’s argument, I will
go through the passage, examining grammatical points and parallels with Old and New Testament
passages. Along the way, I will take a more in-depth look at two verses of particular interest.
The passage affirms righteous anger, but discourages self-centered anger as one of the behaviors
that causes grief and pain to the Holy Spirit. In contrast to many other interpreters, I believe “Do
not let the sun go down on your anger” should be seen more metaphorically in light of passages in
the Septuagint that have shared vocabulary, while “Be angry and do not sin” should be interpreted
more literally given the passage’s grammatical structure.
Context
The overriding theme of Ephesians is unity in the church, which Paul calls the body of
Christ. Believers, both Jew and Gentile, are united in their new identity as Christ-followers.
Paul’s comments relating to anger come within the so-called “parenetic” part of the letter—that
is, comprised of practical instructions on how day-to-day life should be shaped by the believers’
relationship with Christ and with each other “in Christ.” The view that positive actions will
promote unity and negative ones will undermine it is implicit. Paul explains that God has given
believers a variety of gifts for building up the body (4:1–16). The Gentile culture around them
is filled with practices that offend God (4:17–19), but Christians are to be different. They must
exchange the old, corrupt self for the new, which is being transformed to be like God (4:20–24).
In 4:25–32, Paul contrasts the old self with the new using four negative-to-positive examples,
each with an explanatory or motivating clause: falsehood to truth, stealing to work, unwholesome
talk to encouragement, and bitterness/anger to kindness. The main point of this “vice list” is that
persistent ungodly behavior will grieve the Holy Spirit (v. 30). The instructions on anger appear
among the negative-to-positive examples, but take a different syntactical form that incorporates a
quotation from Psalm 4. Paul goes on to remind the believers of Christ’s love and sacrifice (5:1–2)
and warn them about those who would deceive them into allowing immoral practices to continue
(5:3–20).
All main verbs in 4:25–32 are imperatives. Significant parallels exist between this text and
Colossians 3:8–10, both of which refer to lying, anger, bad language, and the importance of
“putting off” (Greek apotithēmi) the old self. It is possible that this expression may be a reminder
to the believers of their baptism.2 Old ways have been renounced; believers have been reborn into a
new way of life. Ephesians goes into more detail than Colossians, with various references folded in:
the Old Testament, other letters of Paul, and possibly early-church liturgy as well.3
Verse 25 presents us with the first of the four negative-to-positive dichotomies: falsehood to
1 E.g., John Stott, The Message of Ephesians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1979), 187.
2 Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990), 296.
3 Andrew T. Lincoln, “The Use of the OT in Ephesians,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 14 (1982): 48.

49

truth. The reason for speaking the truth is that “we are members of one another,” evoking the
image of the body from 4:16. Lies undermine unity by dividing people into factions, while the truth
brings the community together and allows believers to deal honestly with each other and support
one another. The main clause, “let each one speak the truth with his neighbor,” is virtually identical
to the Septuagint’s Zechariah 8:16, though the clause is not introduced by any verbal formula.
Verse 26 begins an asyndeton that continues through verse 29; this is a sequence of statements
in succession without conjunctions to connect them. This type of construction adds emphasis and
creates a rhetorical “staccato effect,”4 with the reader moving through the material without pausing
at each independent clause. Asyndeton typically leads to a conclusion5—in this case, that the named
sinful behaviors grieve the Holy Spirit (v. 30). Verses 26–27 break from this section’s pattern of
negative-to-positive followed by a motivation; the instructions are all phrased as negatives except
for “be angry.”
Be angry and do not sin
Both “be angry” and “do not sin” are imperative verbs. While major modern translations
interpret “be angry” as having a concessive force—“In your anger, do not sin” (NIV); “Be angry
and yet do not sin” (NASB); “Be angry but do not sin” (NRSV)—the Greek does not indicate this
grammatically. For example, the conjunction alla (“but”) rather than kai (“and”) might be expected
if a concessive sense were intended. Usually, when two verbs are connected by kai and there is a
concessive meaning, the second verb appears in the future indicative or functions as such, even if
imperative in form.6
Daniel Wallace makes a case from the grammar that “be angry” (orgizesthe) has the force of
command rather than condition or concession, yielding “Be angry and do not sin.” He believes that
this refers to righteous anger: “Paul is placing a moral obligation on believers to be angry as the
occasion requires.”7 A righteous anger at sinful behavior and its results is “a part of our response
to imitate God.”8 I observed something along these lines recently; a pastor expressed anger at the
results of false teaching. (He had met someone who had been encouraged to blame himself for a
chronic illness.) Harvey McArthur concurs that anger is an appropriate response when we confront
abuse, suffering, or neglect, stating, “without righteous indignation we are seldom energized to
oppose manifest evil,” and pointing out that silence in the face of evil is also a sin.9 Clearly, anger
too often leads to sin, thus Paul’s further caution about anger in verse 31. Gustav Stählin puts it
well: “God’s wrath is that of wounded love; human wrath is that of aroused self-seeking.”10
The first part of verse 26 is a quotation from Psalm 4:4 in the Septuagint, again without any
introductory formula. While the reference to the psalm is noted, there is no consensus among
scholars about the significance of the Old Testament context.11 Given the lack of clarity over the
nature of the anger indicated in Ephesians, it is worth taking a closer look at the psalm. But there
we also find ambiguity: the exhortations in Psalm 4:4–5 could be addressed either to David’s
faithful companions or to his adversaries. In verse 1, David addresses the Lord, asking for relief
from his distress. Verses 2–3 are addressed to his adversaries, telling them that they should stop
their opposition and recognize that the Lord is on David’s side. After the instruction to “be angry,”
4 Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 658.
5 E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968), 224–25.
6 Wallace, Grammar, 491–92.
7 Wallace, “Όργίζεσθε in Ephesians 4:26: Command or Condition?” Criswell Theological Review 3, no. 2 (1989): 372.
8 Ibid.
9 Harvey K. McArthur, “Be Angry but Do Not Sin,” The Living Pulpit 2, no. 4 (1993): 42.
10 Gustav Stählin, “The Wrath of Man in the NT,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard
Kittel, trans. Geoffrey Bromiley, 5:419–47 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 420.
11 Walter Liefield (Ephesians, IVP New Testament Commentary [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997], 117)
believes that “be angry” is directed toward David’s opponents, that they should progress from anger/trembling to reflection
and repentance. Wallace (“Command or Condition?” 359) considers the OT context a “moot point.”

50

verses 4 and 5 encourage godly behavior, including refraining from sin, searching one’s heart,
offering sacrifices, and trusting the Lord. This could be an exhortation of continued faithfulness to
companions or a call to repentance for adversaries. Verses 6–8 again address God, asking for his
favor and thanking him for his blessings.
Shikai Ronnie Poon believes that verse 4 is addressed to the faithful, citing the fact that
the Hebrew verb rgz was translated in the Septuagint as “be angry” rather than the alternative,
“tremble,” which would be most appropriate for adversaries.12 The existence of a minor break
(selah) between verses 4 and 5 may also indicate “that the addressees are different in the subsequent
verses”; thus, the psalmist may be “calling the faithful to respond properly against the hardship
pressed upon them by their opponents.”13 A citation of this verse in the Midrash also has a sense of
anger or rage.14
So, as unusual as it is to find human anger depicted positively in Scripture, the beginning of
Ephesians 4:26 indeed seems to be a command to “be angry and do not sin.” Psalm 4:4 paints a
picture of angry people bringing their concerns to the Lord in prayer: “The NT recognizes a holy
anger which hates what God hates.”15 As the father of one of the Sandy Hook Elementary School
shooting victims put it, “It is our responsibility to be outraged, to take action, to ensure this doesn’t
happen again.”16
Do not let the sun set on your anger
The second part of verse 26 is usually interpreted literally: that disputes should be settled
before sundown (or, at least, settled as quickly as possible).17 We should avoid nursing grudges and
not allow anger to fester.18 Peter O’Brien believes that this saying was proverbial, citing the practice
of the Pythagoreans to seek to be reconciled before sunset.19 Settling disputes quickly is certainly
good advice, and the importance of prompt reconciliation is in harmony with Jesus’s teaching in
Matthew 5:21–26. But is a metaphorical sense in view here rather than a literal one?
Most references to the sun setting in Scripture are literal, marking time limits, such as the
beginning of something (e.g., Passover in Deut 16:6) or the completion of something (e.g., the
time of purification in Lev 22:7). Significant metaphorical uses are also found. The sun’s rising and
setting is cited in Psalms 50:1 and 104:19 as examples of an ordered universe over which God is
sovereign. When the sun goes down, “people retire and predators emerge.”20 The sun setting while it
is still day (Jer 15:9) and being darkened (Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15) indicate disorder and destruction on
the day of the Lord’s judgment.
The usage that most closely parallels Ephesians 4:26 is found in the Septuagint of Micah 3:6,
where the sun is said to be setting on false prophets. Because of their apostasy, such liars will find
God withdrawing his favor or presence and their prophetic visions darkened. The same verbal root
is found here as in Ephesians (dunō), as well as the preposition epi (in Ephesians both as a verbal
12 Wallace favors “tremble”; “Command or Condition?” 359.
13 Shikai Ronnie Poon, “The Use of Psalm 4:4 in Ephesians 4:26,” Jian Dao 34 (2010): 333.
14 Ibid., 331.
15 Stählin, “The Wrath of Man,” 419.
16 Jeremy Richman, quoted in Tovia Smith, “Newtown Parents Seek a Clearer Window into Violent Behavior,”
Morning Edition, National Public Radio, Dec. 12, 2013. Online at http://www.npr.org/2013/12/12/250287971/newtownparents-seek-a-clearer-window-into-violent-behavior.
17 So Liefield, Ephesians, 117; Lincoln, Ephesians, 302; McArthur, “Be Angry,” 42; Peter O’Brien, The Letter to the
Ephesians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 340; Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, NIV
Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 250.
18 So Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 186.
19 O’Brien, Ephesians, 340.
20 Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, eds., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove:
InterVarsity, 1998), 827.

51

prefix and a freestanding preposition).21
With the same verb, the Septuagint of Isaiah 60:20 states that Israel’s sun will never set again
during the ultimate reign of the Lord. The earthly sun and moon will no longer be needed, because
the Lord himself will be their light. The metaphor from Micah associates the sun setting with the
departure of the Lord’s Spirit or presence, while Isaiah depicts God’s personal presence taking over
the illuminating function of the sun. The three passages are juxtaposed below. Shared vocabulary is
underlined to show that similar concepts are being conveyed.
Ephesians 4:26:

o ēlios / mē / epiduetō / epi / tō parorgismō / umōn
The sun / not / let set on / on / the anger / your [plural]

Micah 3:6 LXX:

kai / dusetai / o ēlios / epi / tous prophētas
And / will set / the sun / on / the prophets.

Isaiah 60:20 LXX:

ou gar / dusetai / o ēlios / soi
Nor / will set / the sun / your [singular]

Light and darkness are common scriptural metaphors for the presence and absence of God and
will be used a few sentences later in Ephesians 5:8–13 (“Live as children of light . . .).22 So, “Do not
let the sun go down” in 4:26 likely is implying, “Do not lose sight of the Lord.” Do not let your
righteous anger cross over to the “dark side” and lead you away from God and into sin. As Klyne
Snodgrass points out, “Anger is one place of inroad for [the devil], a Trojan horse for his attack.”23
The noun translated anger in 4:26, parorgismō, appears only once in the New Testament
(though a related verbal form appears in Eph 6:4). This word most frequently means “provoking to
anger” or “an action that calls forth anger,” and here as a “state of being intensely provoked.”24 This
type of anger may harden into a lasting bitterness.25 Wallace notes that this unusual word almost
always has an active meaning in the Septuagint and might be translated “cause of provocation.”26
Thus, believers should be angry when appropriate and careful not to sin. They should not
lose sight of the Lord in their state of provocation, for doing so opens up an opportunity for the
enemy. This harmonizes with the picture in Psalm 4:4 of the provoked person searching his or her
heart in a prayerful way and trusting in the Lord for resolution. If our anger departs from God and
his righteousness, the enemy is quick to take advantage, undermining the unity of the Christian
community.
Do not grieve the Spirit
Before addressing the topic of anger again, Paul gives two more negative-to-positive contrasts
followed by a reason or motivation. Verse 28 counsels changing from stealing to hard work in
order to share. Verse 29 contrasts unwholesome words with words that build up in order to impart
grace. Verse 30 gives us the major motivation to live as imitators of God: so that we do not grieve
the Holy Spirit. Concluding the asyndeton that started in verse 26, verse 30 has a sense of climax
or summing up as the main point of the passage. The behaviors that grieve the Holy Spirit are those
21 Joseph Thayer (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [Edinburgh, T&T Clark (repr. Peabody, MA:
Hendrickson)], 1896) indicates that dunō has the sense of the sun sinking or appearing to “enter” the sea. A different verb,
katechō, is used as an aorist passive in the description of judgment in Jer 15:9, which has the sense of the sun being restrained
or suppressed (F. W. Danker, W. Bauer, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and
Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999], hereafter BDAG, s.v.).
22 See also John 12:36; 1 Thess 5:5; 1 Pet 2:9; 1 John 2:8–11.
23 Snodgrass, Ephesians, 250.
24 So also H. G. Liddell, R. Scott, and H. S. Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996),
online at http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/lsj/#eid=1&context=lsj (hereafter LSJ); and Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon.
25 Stählin, “The Wrath of Man,” 419.
26 Wallace, “Command or Condition?” 365.

52

just mentioned: lying, ungodly anger, stealing, and corrosive language. Right behavior is needed
so that we do not cause sorrow to the one we love and do not disrespect our inheritance, which
includes the Holy Spirit. All of these practices are harmful not only to the individual, but to the
community, undermining the fellowship of unity that Christ wants to build among his followers
and that Paul is stressing throughout this epistle. Snodgrass points out the contrast between the
devil, to whom we should not give any space, and the Holy Spirit, whom we should allow the space
to work in us.27
The word for grief, lupeō, indicates sorrowful distress,28 a “deep grief that Jesus calls ‘sorrowing
unto death’” and a term used to describe Pharaoh at the death of his firstborn son.29 This is a
powerful concept for someone who is held back from a deeper faith by the image of an angry God.
But, instead of anger, we have the picture here of a God whose heart breaks at our continuing
disobedience. By using the somewhat redundant expression “the Holy Spirit of God,” Paul
“emphatically underscores the identity of the one who may be offended, and thus the seriousness
of causing him distress.”30 The Spirit is the source of our unity, and actions that work against unity
bring him sorrow.31
The expression “in whom we have been sealed for the day of redemption” reminds readers of
the bigger picture. Our identity is found now in our common family and common destiny. Paul
changes to the first person plural here to include himself among those who have been sealed. A
seal was used in ancient times to mark property and denote legal protection. This might include a
physical mark, such as a notch or brand.32 The image of a physical mark placed on God’s people is
evoked in Revelation 3:12, where God says, “I will also write on them my new name.” In Judaism,
circumcision is called a seal—a sign of belonging to the community of God’s people.33 The Holy
Spirit is called a seal in 1 Corinthians 1: “He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and
put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (1:22–23 NIV). Gottfried
Fitzer concludes, “From the standpoint of the divine this sealing is a marking of all the members
of the people, of the people in its entirety, as belonging to God, as God’s possession.”34 The fact
that the believers have been sealed for inclusion in the Lord’s inheritance serves as a motivator for
godly behavior. With such a great gift and promise given to us, our gratitude should motivate us to
persevere in doing good.
From conflict to compassion
Paul now resumes his pattern of negative-to-positive followed by a reason or motivation.
Verse 31 lists all the behaviors that should be left behind, with “all that is bad.” This sentence is
an example of polysyndeton, that is, “many ands,” with each pause having importance. Then, in
verse 32, we have an asyndeton listing the good behaviors that should replace the bad ones. An
asyndeton places emphasis on the conclusion, which is that God has forgiven us.35 This serves as the
readers’ reason or motivation for emulating God.
With the list of vices, Paul returns to the topic of anger. Here, instead of a righteous anger, we
can see the manifestation of anger in various forms, from bitterness (pikria); rage (thumos), an anger
27 Snodgrass, Ephesians, 251.
28 BDAG, s.v.
29 Ceslas Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, trans. and ed. James D. Ernst (Peabody, MA:
Hendrickson, 1994), 2.418, citing Jos. Asen. 29.9 in n. 4.
30 O’Brien, Ephesians, 348. The expression “grieve the Holy Spirit” alludes to Isaiah 63:10, although with different
vocabulary in the LXX: autoi de ēpeithēsan kai parōxunan to pneuma to agion autou.
31 Ibid.
32 Gottfried Fitzer, “σφραγίς,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. Geoffrey
Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 7.940–41.
33 Ibid., 947.
34 Ibid., 951.
35 Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 224–25.

53

that flares up quickly; to orgē, the usual word for anger. Thumos and orgē are often found together.36
These inner emotional states then lead to the outward manifestations of shouting (kraugē) and
slander (blasphemia), where people attack each other verbally, undermining relationships and
eroding Christian unity. This underscores the warning about unwholesome language in verse
29. A similar list in Colossians 3:8 shares the vocabulary for rage, anger, slander, and bad things
(kakian).37
Instead, believers should replace their inner anger with kindness and compassion and their
outward conflict with forgiveness. The word for compassion, eusplagchnoi, is related to the inner
organs, such as the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. This was viewed as the seat of affections, in the
same way that we consider the heart.38 The verb forgive (charizō) is directly related to the noun
grace (charis). As God has forgiven us, so we should emulate him by forgiving each other. The
expression “in Christ” is found here, as in many places throughout the epistle.
Conclusion and application
The most common forms of anger—those that result from self-centered concerns—are cited
by Paul in Ephesians as remnants of the pre-Christian life that need to be set aside. Still, there is a
place for anger in the Christian life: Righteous anger that deplores injustice, exploitation, and abuse
is appropriate, as long as it is experienced and expressed in the light of the “sun” of the Lord’s
presence. If we allow even righteous anger to lead us away from the Lord, it can open a pathway
for sin.
The application of this text is not greatly different today than it would have been to the
original hearers: it calls for living in a way that builds others up, with truth and forgiveness as
foundational. Previous ways of living must be reexamined and changed to conform to the character
of Christ. While straightforward, the message is also profound. Thoughtful consideration will
reveal many subtle ways where lying, stealing, and fighting have found their way into our lives.
For example, inflating a resume is lying, and cheating on our taxes is stealing. A grudge against a
cantankerous relative or an outburst against an erratic driver is unrighteous anger. Our love for
Christ and our desire to please him should motivate us to identify and root out the sin in our lives
and relationships and to invite the Holy Spirit to do his work of reconciliation.
When it comes to righteous anger, we can keep it “in the light” by presenting our concerns
to God in honest prayer and being unafraid to ask him the “hard ‘Why?’ questions.”39 We find a
biblical example in Habakkuk, who expressed to God his frustration at the lack of justice in Israel
(Hab 1:2–4) and his perplexity that God would use the unrighteous Babylonians to punish Israel
(1:12–17). Habakkuk’s encounter with God leaves him feeling confident of remaining joyful in the
Lord regardless of external circumstances (3:18–19). When we are outraged at tragedies such as
Sandy Hook, festering injustices such as racism, and exploitive systems such as human trafficking
and income inequality, the best solution is to direct our outrage to the Lord in prayer and wait in
faith for his sovereign solution.40
Deb Beatty Mel has a Master of Divinity degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Boston. She works
as Director of Communications for Boston Building Resources, a community-based nonprofit business, and worships at
International Community Church in Boston.

36 BDAG, s.v.
37 A reference to foul language uses a different word, aischrologian, in Colossians.
38 LSJ, s.v.
39 Lorraine C. Anderson, sermon at International Community Church, Boston, MA, Sept. 7, 2014.
40 This article is adapted from a paper written for the course “Exegesis in Ephesians” at Gordon-Conwell Theological
Seminary’s Boston campus, December 2013.

54

Dr. Jim Singleton is Associate Professor
of Pastoral Leadership and Evangelism
at Gordon-Conwell, and is the lead
SERVE THE CHURCH,

mentor for the Doctor of Ministry track,
NOT YOUR DEBTGa. Hentiuntur

Leadership in a Changing Church Context.

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– Jim Singleton, Th.D.

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1

55

Review of Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with
Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur
(Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013)
John P. Lathrop
John MacArthur is well known in the evangelical world: he pastors a large church in the
western part of the United States, has a radio program, and has written many books. In short, he
is an influential and respected Christian leader. In this, his latest book, MacArthur addresses what
he perceives to be major errors in the doctrines and practices of the Pentecostal and Charismatic
Movements.
The book is divided into three main parts: “Confronting a Counterfeit Revival,” “Exposing the
Counterfeit Gifts,” and “Rediscovering the Spirit’s True Work.” A significant part of this book is given
to explaining that there are no apostles today (ch. 5), that the gifts of tongues and prophecy, as they
functioned in the New Testament, are no longer in operation in our day (chs. 6 & 7), and that the
gift of healing as exercised by Jesus and the apostles does not exist in our day (ch. 8). The book also
contains an appendix with quotations of various Christian leaders from the fourth century to the
twentieth century. All of these quotations, in one way or another, state that the gifts of the Holy Spirit,
in particular, tongues, prophecy, and miracles, were no longer functioning or were not for the time in
which these leaders wrote.
To his credit, MacArthur holds a very high view of Scripture; he believes that the Bible is the
Word of God. Because of this, he seeks, at least in part, to present his case from the Bible against
the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. He addresses matters of both doctrine and practice. In
addition to holding a high view of Scripture, he is also to be commended for identifying certain abuses
within the movements. For example, he takes issue with the prosperity teaching of the health and
wealth gospel (12–16). He also writes against the practice of “tokin’ the Ghost,” that is, pretending to
inhale the Holy Spirit as if smoking marijuana (6). MacArthur does not shrink back from the issues
of error or abuse; in a number of cases, he even gives the names of those who are involved in what he
considers to be false teachings and practices.
At the same time, there is much to criticize in this book. If you are a Pentecostal, a Charismatic, or
one who is sympathetic to either of these movements, you will be shocked by some of what you read.
MacArthur at times makes sweeping, negative generalizations. For example, speaking of what he calls
“the charismatic takeover,” MacArthur writes:
In recent history, no other movement has done more to damage the cause of the gospel, to
distort the truth, and to smother the articulation of sound doctrine. Charismatic theology
has turned the evangelical church into a cesspool of error and a breeding ground for false
teachers. It has warped genuine worship through unbridled emotionalism, polluted prayer
with private gibberish, contaminated true spirituality with unbiblical mysticism . . . (xv).
Clearly, MacArthur is painting with a very broad brush here; in this passage, he lumps all Pentecostals
and Charismatics together. I do not think that this is an accurate analysis of this varied and nuanced
set of movements. In fact, later in the book MacArthur himself acknowledges that the Charismatic
Movement is difficult to categorize. After claiming that doctrinally the Charismatic Movement reflects
the time of the Judges when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes,” he writes:
As a result, it is nearly impossible to define the Charismatic Movement doctrinally except
by its errors. It resists theological categorizations because it has such a wide and growing
spectrum of viewpoints–each of which is subject to personal intuition or imagination (73).
56

The first quotation that I cited from the book is not the only place where MacArthur’s words are
dogmatic or inflammatory. Consider these statements: “As we have seen, modern charismatic versions
of prophecy, tongues, and healing are all counterfeit forms of true biblical gifts” (199). Speaking about
1 Corinthians 14, he writes, “In verse 34, Paul added a fifth proviso: women were not permitted to
speak in the church. Given the nature of typical Pentecostal and charismatic church services, simply
following that final stipulation would end most of the modern counterfeit” (152). This is harsh
language.
The book is not entirely without compassion. In the passage below, he does show some pastoral
compassion and concern, as he writes:
I do believe there are sincere people within the Charismatic Movement who, in spite of the
systemic corruption and confusion, have come to understand the necessary truths of the
gospel. They embrace substitutionary atonement, the true nature of Christ, the trinitarian
nature of God, biblical repentance, and the unique authority of the Bible. They recognize
that salvation is not about wealth and health, and they genuinely desire to be rescued
from sin, spiritual death, and everlasting hell. Yet, they remain confused about the ministry
of the Holy Spirit and the nature of spiritual giftedness (81).
Here he at least acknowledges that some charismatics have gotten some things right.
MacArthur seems to believe that he is a defender of the faith in this book. That is, he is the voice
of orthodoxy seeking to stem the tide of heterodox doctrine and practice. Without question, some
of what he has written is valid, but it is disappointing that his statements are so often dogmatic and
generalizing and his tone harsh and judgmental. This book is not a bridge builder, it is a bridge burner.
MacArthur alienates believers in the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. He is firm in his
convictions. However, I think he is firmly wrong on some points. For example, I believe he has some
misunderstandings about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He thinks that, if we allow the idea that God
speaks today outside of the Bible, this would undermine the sufficiency of Scripture (67–68). This,
in spite of the fact that the New Testament speaks about the gift of prophecy in a number of places
and encourages its use (1 Cor 14:1; 1 Thess 5:19–21). MacArthur also thinks that no one today has
the biblical gift of healing (176). He bases this, in part, on the fact that there are people with extreme
physical needs who are not being healed (176). However, not everyone with a physical need in the New
Testament received healing either (see 2 Tim 4:20). MacArthur also objects to the idea that tongues are
for self-edification (78). While it is true that all of the gifts of the Spirit are for the good of the church
body (1 Cor 12:7), Paul also says that people who speak in tongues edify themselves (1 Cor 14:4).
I would not recommend this book as a primary text for any course at an urban seminary like the
Boston Center for Urban Ministerial Education. It might be used as a supplementary text in a theology
course, but only for the purpose of demonstrating what a strong cessationist position looks like. The
book is contrary to the spirit of CUME, where both the faculty and the student body are from diverse
church traditions, yet they respect each other and learn from each other as brothers and sisters in the
Lord.
John P. Lathrop is a 2003 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Boston Campus/CUME (M.A. in Urban
Ministry) and an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He is co-editor of the book
Creative Ways to Build Christian Community (Wipf & Stock, 2013) and author of four books: Dreams & Visions: Divine
Interventions in Human Experience (J. Timothy King, 2012), Answer the Prayer of Jesus: A Call for Biblical Unity (Wipf &
Stock, 2011), The Power and Practice of the Church: God, Discipleship, and Ministry (J. Timothy King, 2010), and Apostles,
Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers Then and Now (Xulon Press, 2008). He wrote the afterword for Some Men
are Our Heroes: Stories by Women about the Men Who Have Greatly Influenced Their Lives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and
contributed two chapters to the book The Foundations of Faith (Pleasant Word, 2007).

57

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Drawing from Scripture and his experiences of contemporary church life, the
John Lathrop gives specific examples of unity. He also offers practical advice about
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JOHN P. L ATHROP is a graduate of Zion Bible College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies and the author of two other books, Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers Then and Now (2008) and
The Power and Practice of the Church: God, Discipleship, and Ministry (2010).
“I would recommend this book, written so thoughtfully, to everybody who desires to become part of the answer to the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ for
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—MIKE PLAYER, General Overseer, International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies
“At a time when our culture is marked by needless division and strife, our friend John Lathrop sounds a hope-filled trumpet call for the power of unity
among the body of Christ. Just as marriages are transformed when two different people begin walking as one, so will the church be transformed—and
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“I have personally witnessed God use John Lathrop’s commitment to see the body of Christ work together. I am glad John has put his passions to the pen
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—GARRETT SMITH, Director of Outreach and Spiritual Formation, Newton Presbyterian Church, and author of Comfortably Jewish
“In a broken and shattered world there is no greater challenge to the Church than to respond in the affirmative to its Lord’s call to biblical unity (John 17).
The call of Pastor Lathrop for us to be part of the answer to Jesus’ prayer request is one that is both relevant and biblically sound. Taken to heart, Pastor
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58

Review of Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling
People, Cults and Beliefs by Steve Hassan
(Newton, MA: Freedom of Mind Press, 2013)
Donna F. G. Hailson
As a 19-year-old junior at Queens College in New York in 1974, Steven Hassan was recruited
into the “One World Crusade,” a front group for the Unification Church, better known for decades
as the Moonies. He threw himself into the work of “saving the world” and quickly rose to the rank
of Assistant Director of the Unification Church #10 at National Headquarters in Manhattan, New
York.
In 1976, he was involved in a near-fatal road accident that gave his family the opportunity
to bring him into, what he terms, “a deprogramming.” After an intense five-day intervention, he
reports his arrival at the painful realization that he had been the victim of “brainwashing.”
In the post-cult days that followed, Hassan went on to complete a Master’s degree in
Counseling Psychology. Today, as a self-identified member of the Jewish faith, he leads the Freedom
of Mind Resource Center in Newton, Massachusetts. He has written three books, Combatting Cult
Mind Control (1988); Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves (2000);
and an updated version of the second book that is reviewed here.
The sub-title of Freedom of Mind suggests the targeted readership: families and friends who
are concerned for loved ones who have come under the influence of cults or cult-like individuals or
groups whether of the religious, political, therapeutic, one-on-one, or commercial stripe.
Hassan enters into his exposition with a detailing of common cult denominators. He then
reviews the principles of social influence identified by researchers such as Leon Festinger, Jay Lifton,
Robert Cialdini and Margaret Singer. He traces his use of these fundamentals in helping him arrive
at the acronym BITE (control of behavior, information, thoughts, and emotions), his model for
understanding destructive influences. He comes to the conclusion that, “to create a cult identity,
the person’s identity is unfrozen, changed and refrozen . . . the person’s ‘true self’ [however] is
suppressed but not destroyed.”
Hassan then shares his “Strategic Interactive Approach” (SIA) that involves equipping a team
who will, under professional direction, use non-coercive techniques to draw the loved one out from
under the destructive influence. The goal is: empowering the true self and disempowering the cult
self. Assuming the success of this process, Hassan concludes the book with a very brief mention
of how one might be helped in the struggle to find direction in post-cult life through supportive
discussions and counseling.
The book has much to recommend it, though I must share two main concerns.
First, the book might mislead some readers to the hope, the belief, that following a prescribed
set of steps will always—eventually—lead to release. From many years of my own work in ministry
with individuals who have come under the influence of cults, I can attest that it is easiest to make
inroads when a person is just dabbling with the new. Once they have climbed the “mountain” and
believe they have attained the pinnacle of understanding, they are much harder to reach.
Second, we live in a time of turmoil and terrorism, of disenchantment and disarray, when many
are seeking meaning and purpose, a rock on which to stand in the midst of a world of sinking
sand. Hassan’s book would be of greater value if it led readers into the hope of Christ, the one true,

59

stable, always-to-be-trusted foundation. My fear is that, while individuals may find release from a
destructive social influence through Hassan’s model, they may be frozen into a “true self” that may
fall prey and melt yet again when confronted with the promise of purpose presented by yet another
cult. When I closed the book, I felt as though I’d been left hanging, waiting for the “Now What?”
Beyond these reservations, I do believe the book has value—especially in understanding social
influence and strategies that might be employed to interrupt destructive influences. I also applaud
the book’s call to preventive education and counseling and its suggestions on how we might create
a “safer world” wherein it is not so easy for cults to proliferate and individuals to be victimized. I
would recommend the book’s use by instructors, pastors, and loved ones with a caveat: don’t leave
ex-cultist’s vulnerable and wondering about the “Now What?” Help them find their true self in the
Savior Jesus Christ.
Donna F.G. Hailson is an author, journalist, blogger, nature photographer, and speaker. An ordained pastor (American
Baptist Church USA), she formerly served as a professor of individual, congregational and community renewal, evangelism,
world religions, and urban ministry and directed a Doctor of Ministry program focused on the renewal of the Church for
mission. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell (M.Div., 1990) and taught, for many years, on both the Hamilton and Boston
CUME campuses. Her website (www.dfghailsonphotography.com) explores the intersection of Christian faith with the world
of nature.

60

Review of Preventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains and
Pastoral Counselors by Karen Mason
(Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2014)
John Huffman
Suicide is a fact of life. As unpleasant as it is to think about or discuss we cannot deny the
reality of it happening with ever greater frequency. Those of us who are pastors must acknowledge
that sooner or later we will be called on to minister to those contemplating this so final action
and those most severely impacted by both the struggle leading up to the act and the long-term
consequences of its happening.
This was driven home to me in the first church I served as a young pastor from 1968-73.
In those days, both for lack of trained Christian therapists to which to refer, combined with the
then ascendant notion that this was the pastor’s job, I had a very heavy counseling load. Yes,
my seminary degree had provided a reasonable amount of pastoral care training, but I was a
doctrinal theology major. I had not gone the educational route of those highly trained therapists
with the specialized skills to whom I learned to refer heavy duty and high risk counseling cases in
subsequent pastorates. In these early days, all fell on my shoulders. Thus, in those short six years I
was forced to provide pastoral care to numerous people going through extreme emotional anguish.
In particular, I experienced ministering in some ways to six persons who committed suicide.
And I had the follow up responsibility to walk pastorally through the shock and grief with their
remaining loved ones.
Most of these persons who committed suicide seemed to have circumstances quite unique from
the others, while at the same time seeming to suffer from a similar debilitating depression.
One was an energetic architect. When I met him, he was an atheist. I had been privileged to
lead him to vital faith in Jesus Christ. He had a wonderful Christian wife and two darling little
boys. His conversion was so real. In his new found enthusiasm for the Lord he even sang the hymns
louder than others in the congregation and was among the most faithful in attendance. Now I can
look back and surmise that he was probably bi-polar, driven to despair in his professional and
personal perfectionism by several last minute changes in design plans insisted upon by one of his
major clients. In his deep, isolated depression he killed himself and left a long handwritten suicide
note describing his sense of failure as an architect, husband, and father. I and his doctor, an elder
in our church, were along with his wife on the scene within minutes of his desperate act, too late
to change anything. But in the following days it was my responsibility to preside over his funeral
while pastoring his family and friends. And in the months ahead it was my sacred responsibility
to support his precious wife who had such debilitating grief, self-doubt, and severe guilt second
guessing what she might have done preventively while providing some degree of solace to his heartbroken little boys. Several years later she moved back north and I went on to serve other churches.
Her love for her husband was so great that she never remarried. And the pastoral connection was
so strong that in the decades to follow she tracked me down with her annual update of events in
the life of her family.
Another just as dramatic instance was that of a businessman from New York City who was
a frequent visitor to our church. His was a second marriage, this time to a talented and beautiful
United Nations multi-lingual translator from Holland. They came to me several times for marital
counseling. In what I analyzed to be depression, he kept insisting that she provide him more
emotionally than she was able to give. Periodically he would threaten suicide. It became a regular
61

enough threat that she began to dismiss it, rationalizing incorrectly with the myth that those who
threaten it never do it. One Sunday after church they returned to their third floor condo, and he
jumped to his death. Imagine the shock that this tragic suicide brought to his wife who really did
love him. Her guilt and remorse were overwhelming. I, as pastor, was the one who had to minister
to his condemnatory family who took every opportunity to blame her and especially minister to her
as she awaited her own family’s arrival from Europe.
These are the two most extreme cases. I’ve had nothing quite as dramatic since. The others
were usually of drug and alcohol overdose after years of quiet smoldering depression. Some left
notes. Others didn’t. In each of these situations, I, then, as a young evangelical pastor and now as
one with fifty years of experience, have had to single handedly wrestle with the kinds of questions
I had to answer for myself and the families if this is a sin and an unforgivable sin at that. Was
there anything any of us could have done to guarantee that this would not happen? Is it possible,
as I have come to believe, that there is a kind of mental illness that renders some persons as
terminally ill as others whose physical diagnosis bears that same term that we also find painful
yet theologically acceptable? And is it possible to make a differentiation between a suicide that is
motivated by a prideful escape from the public embarrassment of some heinous crime or immoral
behavior and that compulsion driven by severe depression? Is the suicide of a pastor’s son who
has struggled most his life from debilitating mental illness of the same theological nature as that
of a high flying con man who embezzled millions of life savings dollars in a clever Ponzi scheme
from professional clients and even trusting friends? And what does one say at the funeral/memorial
service? Do we try to ease the pain by playing God and giving easy answers that might help for the
moment, but could in the process unwittingly give someone else considering suicide a rationale to
go ahead with the act? The fact is that suicide has a lasting negative impact on a family, producing
so much sorrow, self-doubt, and introspective fear on those left behind. Yet we dare not be
condemnatory, assuming the role of judgment reserved only for God.
How I wish that I had then had the resource of Karen Mason’s superb offering Preventing
Suicide. It is a handbook that every pastor should read and have readily available on his/her book
shelf. When I was involuntarily immersed in developing my own theology of suicide, I could
have greatly benefited from her systematic study, including chapters titled: Who Dies by Suicide?;
Shattering Myths About Suicide; Suicide and Christian Theology; Theories of Suicide; Helping
Someone in a Suicide Crisis; Helping a Survivor of Attempted Suicide; Helping the Helpers; Helping
Suicide Survivors; and, Helping the Faith Community. Very quickly I had to address all the issues
with which she quite irenically deals, having benefited from years of academic study and clinical
experience with this particular topic. I had to do it while weekly preparing three different messages,
leading small groups, doing home visitation, overseeing all the programs of the church from cradle
to grave, administrating, fund raising and providing civic community spiritual leadership, carrying
out all those duties that every pastor regularly confronts.
Karen Mason has with this book made a monumental contribution to helping us better
understand suicide and our ministry responsibilities to those impacted by it. I just wish it was
available when I as a young pastor had to deal with all the complicated realities of those heartbreaking suicides within six years in my small Florida congregation and those subsequent occasions
in the half century until now. This book is a must read for anyone dealing with persons in deep
depression that could be life threatening. She not only brings her profound expertise gained from
a lifetime studying this topic, but does it with a great evangelical pastoral/theological sensitivity
combined with exquisite practical application.
Karen Mason does not give easy answers. She surveys most of the caring/restoring literature
on the topic and in particular in her third chapter zeroes in on the heaviest of theological concerns.
She does it in a way that acknowledges varying viewpoints on the topic and stops to accept the
theological mystery that there is much we won’t fully understand in this life as we, along with the
62

Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:12, acknowledge, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we
will see face to face.”
The latest statistics declare that one in twelve Americans deal daily with severe depression. And
a recent study shows that even one in four clergy themselves acknowledge struggling with issues
involving mental illness. It goes to say that this tough topic is not going to go away. That’s why I
recommend that every pastor, chaplain, and pastoral counselor read this book and keep it close
as a resource prior to existentially confronting a suicide. And that all who struggle with their own
depression or that of a loved one also take advantage of her lifetime of formal study and clinical
experience, receiving before it is too late the help that can prevent suicide.
John A. Huffman Jr. is the author of A Most Amazing Call (2012). In 2015, he has been ordained as a Presbyterian
Church U.S.A. minister for fifty years. He is chair of the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Board of Trustees and
chairman of the board of Christianity Today. He serves as “minister-at-large” at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary,
Hamilton, MA.

Discover the Church’s Role
in Suicide Prevention
KAREN MASON

PREVENTING
SUICIDE
ORS ,
A HAN DBO OK F OR PAS T
L
CHA PL AIN S AND PAS T ORA
COU NSE L ORS

Many pastors, chaplains and pastoral counselors
play a vital role as agents of hope to people who
are struggling, but most of them feel overwhelmed
and unprepared to prevent suicides. In this practical
handbook, Karen Mason integrates theology and
psychology, showing how pastoral caregivers can
teach the significance of life, monitor those at risk
and intervene when they need help. Discover how
you and your church can be proactive in caring for
those at risk of self-harm.
“Do real Christians die by suicide? Yes. Only God knows
how many. But most pastors, chaplains and pastoral counselors already know someone they could help choose living
instead of dying . . . if only they knew how. If you’re in that
role, this book is for you. And if you’re preparing for ministry
this book is also for you, because there is little doubt that you
are going to find yourself in this dark trysting place where
death meets life more often than any of us would wish.”
D AV I D B . B I E B E L , coauthor of Finding Your
Way After the Suicide of Someone You Love

233 pages, paperback, 978-0-8308-4117-2, $18.00

K A R E N M A S O N (PhD, University of Denver) is associate professor of counseling
and psychology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a psychologist
working in the mental health field since 1990. She previously managed the
Office of Suicide Prevention for the Colorado Department of Public Health
and Environment and is a member of the American Psychological Association.

Professors, visit I V P A C A D E M I C . C O M to request an exam copy.

63

Review of Atonement, Law, and Justice: The Cross in Historical and
Cultural Contexts by Adonis Vidu (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014)
Antonio L. Arsenal
Atonement, Law, and Justice is a new entry in the study of atonement theory by Adonis Vidu,
Associate Professor of Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Vidu, who holds a
Ph.D. from the University of Nottingham, has published on various topics including Postmodern
and Postliberal theology. Written for a technical audience, but accessible to most adult Christian
readers, this book sets out on an ambitious thesis seeking to describe and explain the interrelated
developments of atonement, legal, and justice theories.
Throughout the course of the book, Vidu segments the developments of these theories into five
time periods. These time periods are somewhat artificial. However, for the purpose of his thesis,
they are reasonable heuristic tools. In each segment the author seeks to bring forward the best
representatives of various legal and atonement theories in a given era, and he does so wonderfully.
Drawing from the work of great figures like Aquinas, Luther, and, Augustine, Vidu works mostly from
primary sources, and offers clear and objective explanations of those sources. In addition to his own
exposition, Vidu also makes appropriate use of secondary sources, while exercising humble restraint
in areas in which he does not consider himself to be an expert. That said, he demonstrates a mastery,
over the historical, philosophical, and theological considerations, that is often lacking in this kind of
broad historical work.
In the final chapter of the book, Vidu turns his attention from describing theology to constructing
it. Although not lacking a descriptive aspect, this final stretch is Vidu’s attempt to construct a positive
theory of the atonement rooted in divine simplicity. Additionally, Vidu mounts a defense of penal
substitutionary atonement, while at the same time not giving it undue weight. Seeking to bring to the
front the various facets of God’s gracious acts toward us, Vidu attempts to hold in tension the various
theories presented in the previous chapters. Although I disagree with some of the conclusions Vidu
comes to, I found his argumentation compelling. His reasoning falls directly in line with the Thomistic
Trinitarianism that undergirds his position. Although there may be more work to be done in proving
his premise, his presentation is polished and effective.
However, for all its merits, the book is not without its faults and limitations. Each chapter is
nearly fifty pages, and, unless a reader is exceptionally interested in a particular topic, reading fatigue
occurs in fairly short order. It is the humble opinion of this reviewer that the structure of the book
might have better served Vidu’s audience if it had been broken into broad sections, with individual
chapters for authors or concepts within each subject. This would have allowed the book to be
digested in shorter sittings. In addition, the author provides numbered summaries at the end of each
chapter that outline the major points and flow of the argument. Perhaps it is my love for Calvin’s
Institutes, but these summaries would have been more beneficial in the beginning of the chapter with
indicators throughout that show where each point falls.
Despite these shortcomings, this book is a valuable addition to the study of atonement theory.
It represents years of research and it is clear that Vidu is at the top of his game. It makes a valuable
entry in the library of any seminary level reader who is interested in the history of atonement theory
and would make a perfect text for a course on atonement theory or a general course in systematic
theology. Additionally, a course exploring cultural influence on concepts of justice would find the
methodology of this book insightful.

64

Antonio L. Arsenal graduated from Gordon-Conwell’s Hamilton Campus in October of 2013 with Master of Arts
degrees in Church History and Theology. He lives in Canaan, NH with his wife Lee, also a GCTS graduate. He blogs at
www.reformedarsenal.com.

UNA GUÍA CRISTIANA
A LA ESPIRITUALIDAD:
Cimientos para
Discípulos

Los
Diez
Mandamientos

El Credo
de los
Apóstoles

El Padre
Nuestro

Las
Disciplinas
Espirituales

Tienes mi bendición. Es un libro que necesitaba ser
escrito. Hará mucho bien
–Peter John Kreeft, Boston College
Este libro es una gran contribución al concepto bíblico/
teológico de la espiritualidad cristiana.
–Héctor Rodríguez, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Me complace recomendar una guía a la espiritualidad y el
discipulado basado en las fuentes que todos los
cristianos tienen en común.
—David Broucek, La Misión Sudamericana
Stephen nos presenta una guía basada en el Credo
Apostólico, el Padre Nuestro y los Diez mandamientos.
Estoy seguro que este recurso será de mucha bendición
para la iglesia hispana en norteamérica.
—Eddy Alemán, Reformed Church in America

65

Review of Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew
by Jonathan T. Pennington
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009)
James A. Benson
Jonathan T. Pennington, Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern
Baptist Theological Seminary, seeks to overturn long-held assumptions about the role of the words
“heaven” and “earth” in the Gospel of Matthew. In his work, Pennington tells us that our millennia-held
assumptions about the use of these terms within Matthew’s gospel are incorrect. He asserts in his thesis
that Matthew uses these terms in four distinct ways in order to establish a distinct meaning for each:
“(1) in a preference for the plural ouranoi; (2) through the frequent use of the heaven and earth pair; (3)
in the use of the phrases ‘Father in heaven’ and ‘heavenly Father’; and (4) via the frequently repeated and
historically unique expression ‘kingdom of heaven’ ” (76).
His first point comes through an examination of the use of the plural form of ouranos, which
is a distinct usage in Matthew’s gospel with respect to both the first century and broader Second
Temple period. One of the first assumptions that he challenges is that of the Church’s interpretation of
Matthew’s phrase “the kingdom of Heaven” as a reverential circumlocution for “God” or “the kingdom
of God.” This phrase has traditionally been explained in this manner, just as the ancient Jews would use
terms such as Adonai for the name of Yahweh. However, Pennington thoroughly and sweepingly knocks
the foundations out from under this interpretation of this phrase. He does this through an impeccably
detailed account of the possible origins of this phrase, especially through the morphological account of
the Hebrew šāmîm. At the end of his argument, no doubt is left that this phrase must be something other
than a reverential circumlocution.
Having found no reason morphologically for this usage, Pennington surveys Old Testament-era
Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and other works leading up to the time of the writing of Matthew to find
an answer as to the meaning of Matthew’s preference of ouranoi. While he finds little, there is some
indication in works both contemporary and following Matthew that the usage of the plural and the
singular indicate reference to the divine, invisible realm usage of the word and the earthly, visible usage,
respectively. This understanding of the terms, according to Pennington, should not simply be understood
as a merism, a figure of speech that combines two words that contrast in order to indicate a whole
topic or area, in this case, denoting all of creation both visible and invisible but should also indicate a
contrastive set of poles—that of a heavenly way and that of an earthly way.
This understanding of the plural use of ouranos leads into his second point: that the heaven
and earth pair which is found so prominently throughout Matthew’s gospel is likewise not simply a
merism, but it also refers to the dualism between the two realms which presents a contrast between
the kingdoms of the earth and the invisible heavenly kingdom (cf. Matt 4:8 as a key example). He
connects this with the worldview that is presented in both the Old Testament and Second-Temple
period literature, showing that there is a fundamental continuity that exists through these times and that
this interpretation of Matthew is not inventing a new usage of the word pair but rather continuing a
tradition.
Matthew’s use, then, of “father language” for God is in line with his overall dualism: the Father
in Heaven is not like the fathers of this world. The language of visibility and invisibility are strongly
connected, again reinforcing the dualism, as the Father in Heaven is one that is both good and cannot be
seen, whereas the fathers on earth can be seen and ultimately cannot be trusted.
Pennington’s final prong in his argument discusses the “kingdom” language in the Gospel of
Matthew. Once again, he connects the kingdom of Heaven idea with the overarching dualism that exists
66

throughout the entire gospel. He also challenges current interpretations of the term basileia. While more
recent scholarship on the word basileia indicates that the word is more accurately interpreted as “rule”
or “reign” without a spatial component, Pennington argues that Matthew’s use of the term should
include such a spatial understanding. In doing so, he argues that Matthew is challenging two separate
notions. First, Matthew challenges the idea of the Messianic kingdom being one that is started here on
earth in the historical Israel. This would contrast with many of the dominant messianic ideas of firstcentury Judaism that the Messianic kingdom originated in the geo-political Israel rather than in Heaven.
Secondly, he challenges the claims of authority that the then-dominant Roman Empire held. Pennington
connects this particular claim to the two separate stories involving paying taxes contained within the
gospel. Further, he argues that a close parallelism exists between the kingdom language and context of
Daniel 2-7 to the kingdom language and context of Matthew.
For the largest part of Pennington’s work, he relies on a broad and extensive survey of ancient
Near East literature, including the Old Testament canon, Apocrypha, and Pseudepigrapha. His work is
quite thorough in its examination of the usage and transmission of the Hebrew šāmîm and its Aramaic
counterpart šāmîn. In terms of his morphological analysis, he takes pains to answer every question
that is posed by the data, leaving only one possible conclusion: there is no morphological connection
between Matthew’s use of the plural and Hebrew. This is an exceptionally strong base on which the
majority of his argument lies.
However, there are points at which Pennington’s argument about the function of “heaven and
earth” is not as well supported. For example, his argument about the inclusio formed by Matthew 1
and 28 is compelling, yet his argument regarding why Jesus’ words in chapter 28 regarding all authority
in heaven and on earth should not be taken as a merism, particularly in light of his conclusion that the
theme emphasizes the universality of God’s dominion, leaves the reader wondering why the simpler
meaning of the merism, even in light of Matthew’s literary prowess, should not be preferred. Further,
Pennington does not even broach the issue of the dating of the gospel of Matthew, yet he considers
both the purpose and the audience of the book at different points. These are issues that demand even a
cursory explanation and description of implications for the whole of the language being employed.
In its totality, though, the book has contributed a fresh new look at what is arguably the most
visible theme of Matthew’s gospel. Pennington has taken a given in the interpretation of Matthew
and shown the evidence needed to cause all exegetes to rethink their understanding of the function of
heaven and earth within the gospel. This fresh look asserts that we should expand our reading of the
use of “heaven” and “earth” to go beyond that of mere reverential circumlocution or merism to show
a real distinct difference between the visible, corrupt earthly kingdoms and the invisible, holy heavenly
kingdom. His work should stand at the beginning of a new line of scholarship of Matthew—one which
must re-think its understanding of the other theological strands of Matthew and their relation to and/or
dependence upon this newly rediscovered strand.
This book should be commended to New Testament scholars, theologians, and pastors alike. The
broad contours and main thesis of the book will stand, though some of the synthesized arguments will
no doubt be rightly critiqued and found lacking in evidence. Further, the sheer breadth and depth of
Pennington’s survey of texts leading to the first century demand a response from anyone who would
claim anything other than a theological purpose behind the heaven and earth language in Matthew’s
gospel. The pastoral implications become clear with Pennington’s discussion of citizenship in either
the visible kingdom of earth or the invisible kingdom of Heaven and in his acknowledgement of the
final consummation involving the irruption of the Kingdom of Heaven into this world rather than the
Kingdom’s annihilation of the world.
James A. Benson (B.A., Baldwin Wallace University; M.Div., Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) serves as pastor of
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Rock Island, Illinois. He has served churches in a pulpit supply capacity in Pennsylvania,
Ohio, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and serves in several para-church ministries. His scholarly interests
include moral theology and New Testament Studies. James and Katie have two sons.

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